Council, board clash over rights to money

The Dunedin City Council is locked in a tussle with one of its community boards after both claimed rights to money from trees harvested at Walton Park.

The council had an unexpected surplus of about $127,000 from the harvest, but has rejected part of a Saddle Hill Community Board request to use $20,000 for two community projects in Fairfield.

The tug-of-war saw councillors taking sides during yesterday's finance, strategy and development committee meeting.

Some called for an earlier pledge to return the money to the community to be honoured, while others insisted the repayment of council debt remained the top priority.

Instead, councillors agreed to award $10,000 to an upgrade of the Walton Park reserve, while rejecting the board's other request for $10,000 for the beautification of Main Rd, Fairfield.

The remainder of the money would instead be used to help repay council debt, in line with existing policy, although the decisions required signing-off at the next full council meeting on September 23.

The tussle came 30 years after land beside Walton Park, vested in the then-Silverpeaks County Council, was used to plant about 9500 pine trees, a report by parks manager Lisa Wheeler to yesterday's meeting said.

The plantation was a joint project involving the community and the Silver Peaks council, with revenue expected to be used to improve the reserve, Mrs Wheeler said.

However, that was before amalgamation in 1989, and ''no special rules'' had been granted to the Saddle Hill board post-amalgamation, despite the board's expectation money would still be used in the area, she said.

Harvesting earlier this year had raised $213,000, which was about $70,000 more than expected, and left a surplus of $127,000 once replanting and other costs were budgeted for, she said.

The community board, at its meeting on August 22, expressed disappointment at the council's stance and asked for at least some of the surplus to be returned to the community.

However, finance, strategy and development committee chairman Cr Syd Brown yesterday reminded councillors the decision was one for the council to make.

Cr Paul Hudson backed the board's revised request by recommending $20,000 be allocated for the board's two projects, which would still leave $107,000 for council debt repayments.

''This was not a council asset; it was a community asset,'' he said.

His view won support from Mayor Dave Cull, who said the split was a ''reasonable compromise'' between a council policy and ''quite clear'' historic obligations.

''These trees were planted by the community and in a sense they don't belong to the council.''

Crs Neil Collins and Jinty MacTavish also backed that position, while Cr Brown supported granting money for Walton Park reserve but not for Main Rd, Fairfield.

However, deputy mayor Chris Staynes feared a precedent could be set, and said the real issue was whether Dunedin was one city or ''a set of disparate communities''.

''I think the process here is incorrect. We should be seeing ourselves as one city,'' he said.

Cr Kate Wilson also worried about the precedent and the process, while Cr Lee Vandervis said council debt was being ignored, in favour of spending the money, ''virtually before this timber has hit the ground''.

Councillors eventually voted to approve $10,000 for the Walton Park reserve, but narrowly rejected the request for another $10,000 for the Main Rd, Fairfield project by a 5-4 vote.

Both moves would be considered for final approval on September 23.

- chris.morris@odt.co.nz

 

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