Rates approved for public consultation

Dunedin city councillors have trimmed 2.1% from forecast rates increases for the next financial year, reducing the expected burden to 5.2%, but must now wait to hear what ratepayers think of their efforts.

Councillors concluded their pre-draft annual plan deliberations yesterday by approving the document, containing revised rates forecasts, for public consultation.

Changes to rates forecasts came after days of wrangling by councillors over changes to capital projects, which aimed to spread the rates burden.

That resulted in the $45 million Dunedin Centre/town hall upgrade being deferred by one year, while other suggestions - including deferring part of the $30 million Otago Settlers Museum upgrade - escaped.

Councillors also voted to provide $2.48 million in funding for Dunedin Venues Management Ltd - the council-owned company tasked with running the Forsyth Barr Stadium and other venues - in the 2010-11 year.

It was also confirmed yesterday, during a public-excluded section of the meeting, funding for the council's harbourside project would remain on the books as scheduled, following earlier suggestions it could be scrapped.

The changes mean the draft annual plan would include forecast rates increases of 5.2% in 2010-11, 8.9% in 2011-12, 7.6% in 2012-13 and 6.2% 2013-14.

That is lower than forecast before councillors' deliberations in 2010-11 and 2011-12, but higher in the following two financial years.

Pre-draft annual plan forecasts had been for increases of 7.3% in 2010-11, 10.9% in 2011-12, 6.6% in 2012-13 and 4.6% in 2013-14.

Mayor Peter Chin commended the work of councillors and council staff, who had quickly produced reports on the implications of changes to capital projects when asked.

"There's been a huge amount of work that's been done to get us to this stage," he said.

However, Cr Kate Wilson cautioned against thinking of the proposed budget changes as savings, saying costs were merely being shifted around.

Cr Chris Staynes also sounded a note of warning, saying he believed the focus should shift from reducing capital costs in 2010-11 to finding efficiencies from within the council's operating costs in 2011-12.

That would have to be achieved by identifying areas of waste, rather than cutting service levels, he said.

The forecast 8.9% increase in 2011-12 was still "fairly significant", and council staff needed to be aware of the possibility of additional scrutiny, he believed.

A final draft would be approved at the next full council meeting on March 1 and then released to the public, with hearings to be held in May.

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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