Dunedin mayor heckled at rates meeting

Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis talks to a supportive audience at a public meeting about...
Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis talks to a supportive audience at a public meeting about rates and debt while (from left) Crs Carmen Houlahan and Mandy Mayhem and Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich watch. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich was heckled and city councillor Lee Vandervis received a warm reception at a public meeting last night calling for a 17.5% proposed rates rise to be curbed.

Refrains of "stop spending" punctuated proceedings.

Cr Carmen Houlahan and Cr Mandy Mayhem also spoke, while Cr Sophie Barker was unable to attend because of illness.

The meeting at the Alhambra-Union Rugby Football Club was hosted by a group called Reduce Rates.

A crowd of more than 200 people, some of them restless, attended.

The first speaking slot was occupied by Central Otago district Teviot Valley Community Board member Gill Booth, who has been affiliated with Voices For Freedom.

Parts of her content about Local Government New Zealand and the Local Government Funding Agency were contested by the mayor.

Mr Radich then showed footage of a water leak he filmed in the city that was quickly fixed and drew attention to Wellington’s water woes, arguing Dunedin did not want to follow suit.

Repairs and maintenance had to be carried out and deferring necessary spending compounded problems, he said.

Much of the proposed rates rise was to cover activities mandated by central government, he said.

"We don’t want wasteful spending," an audience member said.

"Why keep on buying things you don’t need?" asked another.

Mr Radich said the council’s path, including escalating debt, was unsustainable.

A proposal to sell Aurora Energy could put the council on a sustainable footing, he said.

Cr Vandervis said Dunedin was the richest city in the country a century ago, but its citizens were now wanting for disposable income.

He reeled off a list of projects worth at least $1 million each that he had voted against in the past five years.

They ranged from cycleways to buying Forbury Park.

"You tell me which of those things you desperately wanted to have."

None was volunteered by the crowd.

Cr Houlahan said the council and the city needed to be able to operate and she invited feedback about what precisely should be cut.

"While I like Lee a lot, he doesn’t vote for much."

Cr Mayhem said the council needed to invest wisely in the city and take it forwards, rather than backwards.