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There were congratulations and words of warning as Dunedin city councillors confronted their budget for the coming year for the first time in public yesterday.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull set the tone by praising the ''extraordinary'' work of Dunedin City Council staff, led by chief executive Paul Orders, for achieving a 2.8% rates rise for councillors to consider.
The increase projected in the 2013-14 pre-draft budget was well below the 4% target set by councillors last year, giving councillors $1.4 million of headroom for debt repayment or another pressing priority.
However, the elephant in the room remained Dunedin Venues Management Ltd, with a report on the finances of the company and the stadium it operated still to be made public.
And, speaking yesterday, Mr Cull warned councillors the 1.2% gap between 2.8% and 4% did not mean there was money to spend.
''This is not money. This is not something to be spent. This ... is an opportunity for us to invest in savings or invest in specific projects that have a return.
''It's not an opportunity to go and spend up large again.''
That meant the deliberations to come were about deciding how best to deploy the $1.4 million, and already accelerating debt repayment was one area that would need continued attention, he believed.
''Our community is quite conscious of the need for us to be moving in the direction that we are.
''We are on track as a council ... this is another opportunity for us to stay on track.''
Mr Orders concurred, telling councillors they now had ''options'', but only ''modest'' ones, and work on this year's budget was only a start.
''My view is there's always room for improvement ... it has to be viewed as a work in progress,'' he said.