Community boards costly, unfair

Commnunity boards of the Dunedin variety might be nice to have if time and money were not such a serious object these days.

Read their agendas, peruse their minutes and examine their worthy community plans and there is not much to reject specifically.

But on cost, resources and fairness across the city they cannot be justified.

While Cr Lee Vandervis, in his scathing attack on the "boreds" in a recent opinion article in this newspaper might have over-cooked his criticism - and becoming personal on the matter does his case no good - the boards are a luxury the city should not afford.

In some areas, like Central Otago, community boards are given significant powers to organise budgets and contribute to policy.

In Dunedin, however, the "role of the boards is to provide advice to the council on matters affecting their communities and to advocate for the interests of their communities.

Community boards may make submissions to the council and other organisations on matters affecting the community board."

In other words, they are usually little more than talk shops.

Given the paucity of power, it is little wonder the boards' plans are full of words like assist, promote, encourage, advocate, liaise, consult, identify.

Yet, the six Dunedin boards - Chalmers, Mosgiel-Taieri, Otago Peninsula, Saddle Hill, Strath Taieri and Waikouaiti Coast - draw (about $342,000) from the salary pool used also to pay councillors.

This money would be better not returned to be spread among councillors but instead diverted to general ratepayer funds.

Importantly, the boards also drain other resources, with the governance support officers and staff tied up in the meetings and the bureaucracy and paperwork.

If board work is so important, all parts of the city should have their own institutional advocacy group.

If the Strath Taieri Board at its last meeting needed to receive a verbal report from its chairman about overhanging trees in Gladbrook Rd then such reports on out-of-control vegetation - and there would be scores and scores - should go before elected members wherever they occur.

What, too, about all the basic day-to-day roading matters?

The city must have systems to respond to such concerns everywhere and on an even basis.

Additional pressure or information from the favoured board areas is either ineffective or unfair.

Similarly, each board has a small discretionary fund to allocate.

But why should the Waitati School PTA have access to grants ($1000 and $900 in the 2011-12 year) from the Waikouaiti Coast Board's $10,000 a year when PTAs in most of the city do not?

To accentuate the partiality - although the amounts of money are relatively small - everyone pays for the privileges of board areas because their costs are funded across the whole city.

But would Strath Taieri, for example, be so keen on a community board if it added $120 to average rates bills?

Or how would some in Waikouaiti Coast feel at another $30 on the rates?

There are all sorts of communities of interests of various sizes around the city which do not coincide with community board boundaries and may, in fact, not even be geographic.

Waitati has relatively strong coherence and a group has emerged in North East Valley, for example.

Might it not be fairer, and perhaps more effective, if active local residents generate their own groups or own lobbying - outside of an official and costly structure - when needs arise?

Arrowtown and Queenstown Lakes are in the midst of a debate about a community board for that town.

Arrowtown has a history and a community spirit that might lend itself to an official distinct identity.

But where exactly would its boundaries be?

How many of the interests of the community really are different from those of fellow Wakatipu basin residents?

Would Arrowtown be better off with an active non-official voluntary ratepayer association?

Or would Arrowtown be better served by a ward councillor taking in the settlement and surrounding areas?

A good test for the desirability of community boards might be to consider whether the ratepayers of specific areas would be willing to pay themselves for all the costs of and associated with boards.

That certainly would be an excellent test for the Dunedin boards.

 

 

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