No spending spree: Cull

The Dunedin City Council is unlikely to go on a last-minute spending spree, despite extra savings of more than $600,000 being confirmed just days before councillors debate the upcoming budget, Mayor Dave Cull says.

A staff report to be considered by councillors at next week's 2013-14 draft annual plan deliberations has identified $674,000 in extra savings available for the 2013-14 year.

If unspent, the savings could cut the 4% rates rise proposed for the coming year to 3.4%.

Mr Cull told the Otago Daily Times that option would be considered next week, but so, too, would a further acceleration of debt repayments.

A third option might be to use the money instead of planned borrowings for capital projects in the coming year, to avoid the associated debt-servicing costs.

''What we won't be doing is rushing out and looking for places to spend any savings we may have found,'' he said.

''If there were somewhere to invest the money to achieve savings that meant we didn't have to borrow, that would have the same effect as retiring debt.''

Mr Cull and city councillors will on Monday begin debating the coming year's budget, including a proposed 4% rates increase, and how best to make use of the extra savings.

They will also face a series of tough choices after two days of public submissions earlier this week, including pleas from individuals and groups for extra money from the council.

That included the very big, such as the Dunedin Gasworks Museum's request for $2 million over two years, and the not so big, such as the appeal for $60,000 to help fund the Sexy Summer Jobs business internship programme.

Mr Cull acknowledged there remained pressure from some quarters, but he did not expect a major spending spree.

The council had already signalled its intention to tighten its belt and use any extra money to reduce debt levels, and that had been ''very favourably'' received, he said.

''We think the community generally agreed with that approach, so it would make sense [to continue].''

His comments came after council staff, led by council chief executive Paul Orders, in January delivered a pre-draft budget that included a rates rise of just 2.8%, but also ''headroom'' for priority spending, if needed.

Councillors then decided against saving the money to keep rates down, and instead allocated the extra $1.7 million a year to accelerate stadium debt repayments and slash $25 million off the council's interest bill.

That pushed the proposed rates increase back up to 4% by the time the document was released for public consultation.

The report by council financial planner Carolyn Howard to be considered next week, detailed budget adjustments that had identified additional savings in some areas, together worth just over $1 million.

However, a series of smaller cost increases in other areas reduced the total savings to $674,000, she said.

A separate report on budget options, to be tabled at next week's meeting, would outline spending options available to councillors, she said.

The more than $1 million in savings identified included $507,000 a year trimmed from the transportation operations department, partly resulting from a rejig of maintenance contracts, Ms Howard's report said.

The transportation operations savings also included $277,600 cut from council roading funding in areas where New Zealand Transport Agency subsidies had already been withdrawn.

The council had also saved $474,000 in debt-servicing costs, as a result of some unspent funding on capital projects being carried forward to 2013-14, the report said.

Extra costs to be faced included a $100,000 drop in revenue in 2013-14 as a result of the council's move away from parking enforcement, and towards driver education, for some types of offences.

Councillors will also consider a series of council staff reports next week, including on the Dunedin Chinese Garden, Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, Te Rauone beach erosion and landfill fees.

- chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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