3% rates rise approved

Dave Cull.
Dave Cull.
The Dunedin City Council has delivered on a promise to limit its rates rise to 3% for the coming year, despite a warning Forsyth Barr Stadium remains the ''elephant in the room''.

Councillors at yesterday's full council meeting confirmed the council's 2014-15 annual plan, including a 3% rates rise, which would take effect on July 1.

The vote - which only Cr Lee Vandervis opposed - meant the council had also met its longer-term goal, set in 2011, to limit rates increases to no more than 5% in 2012-13, 4% in 2013-14 and then 3% from 2014-15 on.

Mayor Dave Cull told yesterday's meeting councillors and council staff deserved to be congratulated for their work, having taken ''the bull by the horns'' in recent years.

That included shaving millions from council spending to reduce a forecast 11.9% rates increase in 2012-13, and still sizeable forecast increases in subsequent years, to meet the council's goal, he said.

''I'm pretty proud of this council for achieving that,'' he said.

However, with a 4.4% rates increase pencilled in for 2015-16, as well as stadium and other issues still to resolve, Mr Cull had a blunt warning for any councillors who thought the hard work was over.

''We are not out of the woods in terms of challenges. Next year's budget will be as tough, if not tougher, to achieve our ambition of a no more than 3% rates rise,'' he said.

Deputy mayor Chris Staynes agreed, warning that despite the council's good work to date the ''elephant in the room'' remained the stadium.

The review of the venue, launched by council chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose in January, aimed to put the troubled venue on ''a better footing'', he said.

However, it was unlikely to put an end to the stadium-related costs faced by ratepayers, he cautioned.

''I don't think we can expect it will significantly reduce the cost to ratepayers,'' he said.

Instead, the council's focus should continue to be on reducing debt, which was the only way the stadium would cease to be a burden on ratepayers, he said.

Other councillors also applauded the cost-saving efforts of the council and its staff, but Cr Vandervis abstained from voting to accept the budget after expressing ''severe reservations'' about it.

He acknowledged the council's diligent work to cut capital spending - except on cycleways - and reduce other costs, but said a 3% increase remained unaffordable for those on low incomes.

Such increases were not sustainable, but the budget failed to address issues facing the council's companies, including ongoing running costs for Dunedin Venues Management Ltd, he said.

''For the council to have included these costs in our annual plan to me is tacitly accepting this level of running cost spend, which I don't believe is responsible.''

Cr Andrew Noone said Cr Vandervis' views were part of a healthy democracy, but warned the council would be left ''null and void'' if it did not adopt a budget by July 1.

''If we all took that approach [abstaining] we would be in a state of flux,'' Cr Noone said.

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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