Cull leads attack on city council

Local body political grouping Greater Dunedin has begun its electioneering for next year with an attack on the city council of which it is a part.

Greater Dunedin, with its three councillors, Dave Cull, Kate Wilson and Chris Staynes, has registered as an incorporated society and begun advertising for "suitable candidates" to stand under its banner in local body elections in October next year.

Cr Cull has called for the council to be "much more transparent and financially responsible" and his group has also asked for help with funding.

Three senior Dunedin city councillors spoken to by the Otago Daily Times last night believed it was too early to begin campaigning 10 months out from an election.

Cr Richard Walls said there was no "proper" time to begin campaigning and some people began the day after they were elected.

"I would have thought most people right now had one thing on their minds: Getting to Christmas.

"It's the season of goodwill; not politics."

Cr Paul Hudson said Greater Dunedin could not be criticised for starting so early, but he would not be following suit.

"There are a lot of issues to be dealt with over the next few months and normally, when you start on an election campaign, you are dealing with the issues that are current."

Cr Neil Collins said Greater Dunedin could do whatever it wanted "but the election is next year not this year".

Expanding on his remarks, Cr Cull said: "Irresponsible decisions have led to ballooning debt, potential double-digit rates rises for the next several years and the consequential need to defer important projects or reduce service levels."

But asked to list what projects had been deferred and what service levels had been reduced, Cr Cull said he was not saying there had been any yet.

The council was, he said, taking a rigorous look at how to reduce projected rates rises and what projects might be deferred.

Asked if that did not always happen towards the end of the year as the council considered its budget for the following year's annual plan, he said: "I guess."

"There seems to be an increased intensity or vigour this year."

Group members have voted against the Forsyth Barr Stadium, and the resulting $109 million worth of loans the council is taking to pay for its part of it, but have supported the $45.4 million town hall extension, and shown initial support for a $25 million plan to move the Dunedin Public Library to the Exchange.

Those projects, plus the $104 million Tahuna outfall are some of the main drivers of spending and debt in the city.

The "hump of debt" those projects caused was a problem.

"The fact is it was crazy to do them all together," he said.

"Given the current debt levels, further borrowing to deal with major unexpected disasters, or take advantage of opportunities, would place a heavy burden on ratepayers - a situation which is not acceptable.

"With the stadium, it's not just a matter of the capital cost; it's the likely operating cost that's pretty scary."

He said the group did not have a quota of how many more candidates it wanted.

A decision on whether any member would run for mayor would not be made until "at least a couple of months" before the election.


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