Mayoral war of words heats up

The temperature is rising in Dunedin's mayoral race as incumbent Dave Cull and one of his fiercest rivals go head-to-head over credit for slashing the Forsyth Barr Stadium interest bills by $128 million.

The debate erupted as Mayor Dave Cull and Cr Lee Vandervis traded volleys yesterday over the decision to increase stadium loan terms from 20 years to 40 years, and then decrease them to 18.5 years.

Mr Cull has claimed the decision to find extra funding to reduce loan terms had saved the council - and ratepayers - $128 million in interest costs.

However, Cr Vandervis took issue with that in a strongly worded Otago Daily Times interview last week, pointing out Mr Cull had first overseen the increase to 40 years.

Cr Vandervis also claimed it was he, and not Mr Cull, who had ''led the charge'' to have the loan terms reduced again.

That prompted Mr Cull to take to Facebook over the weekend, pointing out Cr Vandervis had missed one key meeting last year, at which the loan term was debated, and voted against reducing the loan term - to 18.5 years - early this year.

And, speaking to the ODT, Mr Cull said Cr Vandervis was ''... misleading the public. Whether he's doing it intentionally or not, or because his memory has failed him, I'm not sure'' .

''There's an old saying that in war, truth is the first casualty. Well, elections are a bit like that, too,'' Mr Cull said.

Some councillors had been surprised at a budget meeting in January last year to learn of the increased 40-year loan term, but had reluctantly endorsed it, while asking staff to investigate ways of reducing the term back to 20 years.

Reports by the ODT at the time showed Cr Jinty MacTavish was a vocal critic of the 40-year term, while Cr Vandervis was on holiday and missed the meeting after a last-minute change of meeting dates.

Mr Cull said yesterday he was not criticising Cr Vandervis for being absent.

''I'm just saying it's a bit difficult to lead the charge when you're not there.''

Cr Vandervis hit back yesterday, releasing a series of emails between himself, Mr Cull and council staff from January last year.

Some emails, sent while he was on holiday at the time, demanded answers over the decision to increase the loan term to 40 years.

Cr Vandervis claimed the idea had been ''roundly rejected'' by councillors at an earlier non-public committee meeting in mid-2011.

The minutes of that 2011 meeting showed staff were to report back on ways of repaying the stadium loans within 20 years, but also on ways of restructuring capital repayments ''to reduce the timeframe to less than 40 years''.

All the resolutions were carried. Cr Vandervis voted against the latter but was outvoted.

Cr Vandervis would not be interviewed when contacted yesterday. Instead, he criticised the ODT's review of councillors, published on Saturday, before hanging up.

In an email, he claimed the idea of extending loans had been deliberately ''refloated'' while he was on holiday in January.

''These are not my facts - they are the facts, properly archived,'' he said.

Mr Cull's claims to have saved ratepayers $128 million was a ''provable deceit'', given Mr Cull had agreed - even reluctantly - to increase the loan terms in the first place, Cr Vandervis argued.

''This confirms that Mayor Cull has knowingly increased the repayment period and fixed debt to produce the appearance of low rates increases.''

Mr Cull said the initial increase of the loan terms to 40 years was one of the ''unpleasant surprises'' dealt with in the wake of Dunedin City Holdings Ltd's multimillion-dollar dividend shortfall.

However, he had never denied that, and had agreed to it only reluctantly, as a short-term fix until the matter could be addressed, he said.

''And we succeeded. And I don't mean me - I mean council.''

He denied it was misleading to talk of a $128 million saving when returning loan terms to similar lengths.

''Had we continued to leave the term where staff recommended we do, we would have spent another $128 million over the period. That's the reality.

''You can get into semantics about it but it's certainly a saving on what we would have had to pay.''

- chris.morris@odt.co.nz

 

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