6.5% rates rise proposed, but council wants further cuts

Chris Staynes
Chris Staynes
Dunedin ratepayers are facing a 6.5% draft rates increase for the year: now it is up to the public to tell its council whether or not that rise is acceptable.

A sometimes testy almost seven-hour debate ended the city council's draft annual plan meetings for the year, with the result now set to go out for public consultation, with three days of public hearings set down for May 4.

Although staff had already spent months cutting a forecast 9.1% down to 6.1% by the start of the meetings late last month, the council has again sent them away to find further savings before the annual plan's adoption in June.

The meeting also decided to re-jig rent rises for council tenants, with a $10 a week across the board increase changed to $12 a week for newer flats, and $9 a week for older ones.

The meeting, which was adjourned last Monday, reconvened with a rates rise of about 6.4%, after various increases, including the cost of the John Wilson Ocean Dr reopening at nearly $500,000, were included in the budget.

Deputy mayor Chris Staynes introduced recommendations to extend the work of departmental review groups that were set up earlier in the meeting round, authorising them to work with acting chief executive Athol Stephens to identify further budget reductions in the 2011-12 draft annual plan.

A requirement for increased staffing levels was be reviewed by Mr Stephens to reduce the percentage increase in budgeted staff costs, and further operational savings were to be identified.

The savings were to be reported back to finance, strategy and development meetings by June 27.

Mr Stephens said it was the first time he had seen the recommendations.

He noted additional costs had already been included in the draft plan by councillors, and he was concerned staff were being asked for reductions that were difficult to make.

Cr Staynes said after the meeting any changes could not affect service levels in a way that was "more than minor", as the draft plan had already gone out for consultation.

He said cost reductions should be a "continuous project" at the council.

"We need to capture any savings between now and the adoption of the plan."

Mayor Dave Cull said some proposals to reduce rates, such as a reduction in library hours and cutting the council's electricity fund for people who could not pay their electricity bills, were unacceptable to councillors.

As well, the council had brought forward work on climate change, which showed it was taking that issue seriously.

"The way I see it, this is just further refinement to reviews that have already been set up before this meeting," he told the council.

The recommendations were passed by all councillors, except Cr Lee Vandervis.

Mr Vandervis said the council's failure to "slash and burn" was the reason it had such high debt.

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