Councillors reveal election year priorities

Neil Collins
Neil Collins
Dunedin city councillors are entering election year promising to push for more disciplined spending, debt reduction and even a merger with the Otago Regional Council, before turning their attention to the ballot box.

However, Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull has become one of the first to confirm he will stand again, seeking a second term as mayor.

At the same time, the city's longest-serving incumbent councillor, Neil Collins, has confirmed he will step down at the election, while Cr Lee Vandervis is considering a high-spending bid to unseat Mr Cull.

Cr Collins yesterday told the Otago Daily Times he would not stand again at the next ballot on October 12.

His retirement would end a council career which stretched back to 1989 and made him the longest-serving incumbent councillor.

''I think it's time to allow other people to step in,'' he said.

Most other councillors spoken to were reluctant to reveal their hand yet, preferring to wait until mid-year before confirming any decision.

However, Cr Vandervis - who stood unsuccessfully for mayor at the last election in 2010 - said he was leaning towards another mayoral bid, as well as running for a council seat again.

He claimed he had already been approached by a ''fairly wealthy individual'' offering to fund his campaign if he agreed to run for mayor again.

Cr Vandervis would not name the person, and said the amount of money on offer had not been discussed, but the person had ''substantial'' resources.

''It would take some pretty serious sponsorship for me to go seriously after Cull. He remains very popular,'' Cr Vandervis said.

The Local Electoral Act set campaign spending limits based on population, and in Dunedin meant mayoral candidates were limited to $55,000.

That meant ''the wallet can only be so much use'', Mr Cull said when told of Cr Vandervis' comments.

Of those contacted yesterday, only Mr Cull, deputy mayor Chris Staynes and Cr Teresa Stevenson would confirm they planned to stand again, while Cr Kate Wilson said she would ''more than likely'' join them.

Crs Vandervis, Bill Acklin, Richard Thomson and Colin Weatherall all said it was too soon to make a decision.

Crs John Bezett, Paul Hudson, Jinty MacTavish, Syd Brown and Andrew Noone could not be contacted.

Neither could Cr Fliss Butcher, although she has previously said she would join Cr Collins in stepping down in October.

Asked about priorities for the coming year, councillors identified the annual plan budget hearings beginning later this month as a key focus.

Mr Cull said it would be ''reasonably challenging'' to achieve the hoped-for rates increase of no more than 4% for 2013-14.

''That's just as much a challenge this year as it was to get [down] to 5% last year,'' he said.

Despite that, the council also needed to find room for positive initiatives, like improvements to the heritage warehouse precinct, cycling infrastructure and economic development strategy initiatives, as well as pursuing new deals in Shanghai, he said.

Cr Acklin said this year's annual plan would be a key focus as councillors battled over what to retain or remove from the budget.

He wanted the council to be more active in support of job creation, such as the establishment of an oil and gas support base in Dunedin, and hoped to see progress on the city's aquatic facilities and Logan Park upgrade.

''Some people would say those things are luxuries, but ... I think that's what the city is here to provide.''

Cr Collins said he would be keeping ''a very close watch'' on the council's finances and rates increases, which needed to remain affordable.

''That should be all councillors' priorities.''

Cr Thomson agreed, saying he wanted rates increases kept within the 4% goal set for 2013-14, while ensuring the city's economic development strategy was ''up and running''.

''It's really key to the future of this city.''

Cr Stevenson said she wanted to see more council funding used for job creation initiatives, such as home insulation work.

Cr Vandervis said he would be pushing for a merger of the city council with the Otago Regional Council to reduce duplication, thereby cutting costs, and use the savings to help pay for Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Cr Weatherall said this year's annual plan would be ''critical'' given the squeeze on council budgets.

''There's a whole lot of demands, but obviously not a lot of spare cash.''

Cr Staynes agreed, saying rates needed to be kept at the promised level, to free up cash for debt reduction, while Cr Wilson said her focus would also be on debt reduction.

''We have to get on top of the debt ... If we haven't heard that message yet then I'm not quite sure what we need to be hit with to understand it.''


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