Pressure on councillors to balance expectations

Councilors requested with various options for upgrading the Octagon in June. Photo: ODT Files
Photo: ODT Files
Investing wisely in Dunedin’s basic infrastructure while making the city a better place to live and protecting the environment will be a difficult balancing act amid challenging economic conditions, councillors say.

Cost pressures, debt, climate change and uncertainty about Three Waters are among the issues that are top of mind for the Dunedin City Council ahead of debate about what spending should be included in its 2024-34 long-term plan.

"Like households, we need to balance our budget and decide what we can and can’t afford, and what our priorities are," Cr Sophie Barker said.

"Key challenges are the economic conditions and costs of living, which are tough on our community.

"We need to be extremely mindful of this when we are making decisions."

Other councils had signalled double-digit rates increases and Cr Barker expected the pressures behind this would be felt by the city council and its ratepayers.

It was also important to maintain a strong vision for the city, ensure it had "wonderful community amenities" and to keep in mind environmental imperatives, she said.

"People care the most about the basics — safe water, drivable roads, waste removal and an efficient, workable city," Cr Barker said.

"If infrastructure isn’t our first priority to be invested in, we go backwards and don’t deliver for our community."

Deputy mayor Cherry Lucas said "tough financial prudence" was required from the council.

Her focus would be on fiscal responsibility and some items would have to take priority over others, she said.

Cr Bill Acklin said economic development was a priority.

"It drives the ability for the city to grow and deliver on our social and environmental aspirations," he said.

"I hope this long-term plan sets a way forward to include the things that we need to do over and above infrastructure upgrades and maintenance."

Cr Christine Garey said the times were fiscally challenging, both for the council and community, especially for people on fixed incomes.

"My priority, beyond ensuring the city continues to run efficiently and continues to be the vibrant, attractive city it already is, will be to finish what we’ve started," she said.

For Cr Garey, that meant continuing to push for completion of the Otago Peninsula connection project, which includes development of a shared path.

The project was benefiting the wider city "in its nearly completed state".

Cr David Benson-Pope also drew attention to peninsula safety improvements yet to be done and said further progress was needed on planned upgrades in the central city.

"The long-term plan needs to demonstrate vision and ambition for our city, making it ever more attractive for residents and visitors alike," he said.

"I will be working to ensure that projects under way or committed continue with appropriate funding, especially several essential transport projects."

Cr Steve Walker said in an inflationary environment community services such as libraries, playgrounds and public housing should remain a given.

"We are currently facing a climate crisis and everything we decide to do, including business as usual, needs to be looked at through the lens of its environmental impacts and consequences," he said.

"Let’s remain an ambitious, future-focused city that we can all be proud of."

Councillors agreed uncertainty about Three Waters was unhelpful.

The government intends to reverse the previous government’s plan to take water activities away from councils.

Cr Barker said clarity was required.

"It’s the largest part of our budget, and the most challenging, as there are huge and expensive works to be carried out to ensure that we continue to deliver safe water and disposal, especially under the new rules of Taumata Arowai."

Cr Garey said uncertainty about Three Waters and expected effects of climate change added to challenges.

"We have a responsibility to our community to be proactive to avoid even greater costs down the line from the impacts of climate change."