Stadium $140m debt to loom large in debate

Forsyth Barr Stadium will be the focus of attention during Dunedin City Council debates this week...
Forsyth Barr Stadium will be the focus of attention during Dunedin City Council debates this week. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Dunedin city councillors will enter a political minefield this week as they meet to deal with not only the city's budget, but what is now the 40-year period it will take to pay Forsyth Barr Stadium debt.

The first day of meetings for the city's annual plan starts today with a workshop, from which the public are excluded, followed by public meetings beginning tomorrow.

And on top of debates about the cuts and deferrals that have seen the rates increase cut from 11.9% to 4.7% is a report on the roughly $140 million of stadium debt.

Council finance and corporate support general manager Athol Stephens said the period to repay the debt had been extended to 40 years.

Staff calculations show it would cost about $26 a year extra from the average ratepayer to bring the term back to 20 years.

City residents should know by the end of the week whether that is a political bridge too far for councillors.

The much-debated $66 a year cost of the stadium to the average ratepayer is one figure that would be remain unchanged in the wake of such changes.

But Mr Stephens said the council's financial situation would change as time went by, and there was no reason to rush to find a solution yet.

Last July, it was revealed council companies would not be able to provide $8 million in dividends annually to help pay for multimillion-dollar spending.

Part of that was $3 million the companies were required to come up with for the stadium.

Staff suggested then the period taken to pay off the loans should be doubled, from 20 to 40 years, with the matter revisited in 10 years, once private sector debt for the stadium was paid off.

It was also suggested city ratepayers could be asked if they wanted to add about $13 a year to the average rates bill, and a capital maintenance fund of $6.3 million could be deferred for five years.

But councillors baulked at the idea of increasing the period of the loan, and told staff to investigate ways to keep it at 20 years.

They voted to defer a $6.3 million capital maintenance fund that would have been established by borrowing the money.

They asked staff to report back on the impact of raising an extra $1 million a year from ratepayers (the contribution required from ratepayers to pay the loan in 20 years) and targeted rates options for that purpose; and to report on ways to reduce the timeframe, taking into account the council and council company Dunedin Venues Ltd debt profiles after 2025.

A report from financial planner Carolyn Howard to this week's meetings said the loss of the $3 million meant the debt was "now scheduled to be repaid over a 40-year term".

The report recommended the council consider "whether it wishes to provide additional funding in the draft 2012-13 long-term plan for the purpose of accelerating the repayment" of the stadium debt.

In response to the information required by councillors, the report said additional ratepayer funding of $1 million a year would mean a cost of $13 a year for the average ratepayer.

To shorten the loan to 20 years would require $1.9 million extra from ratepayers, meaning a cost of about $26 a year for the average ratepayer.

The report included discussion on targeted rates for the retail and accommodation sector, residential, farmland and lifestyle land, and tourism.

With private sector debt due to be repaid in 10 years, "assuming commercial operations meet budgets, noting the inherent uncertainties in either direction of a 10-year forecast, additional cash should be available to service the remaining public sector long-term debt", the report said.

Another possibility was to use any cash surplus, if any was available, from the sale of Carisbrook.

Mr Stephens said the sooner the debt was paid, the sooner the council could access $5 million in company dividends companies were paying for debt.

There was "nothing more certain than that companies' cash flows will change", he said.

As private sector debt was paid off, the public sector funding Dunedin Venues Management Ltd was earning through sponsorship and ticket sales would become available to pay council debt.

For those reasons, instead of finding an instant solution, it would be useful to review the situation annually, he said.

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