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Will similar alarm be raised in the years ahead?
Councillors have a taxing job balancing spending priorities, and rates and spending could become a central issue in the coming election.
Every council has every reason why rates must go up and borrowing increase. There are always worthy causes and demands. There are always infrastructure deficits.
At the moment, this is exacerbated as the council faces pressure in particular to tackle water and drainage issues in South Dunedin. Bills for such work are always huge.
The councillors this year exceeded their so-called self-imposed "cap" of an average 5% increase in rates over 10 years. One of the issues with a cap is that it easily becomes a target. It would have been an extraordinary surprise if any increase was well under the "cap".
The projected rating increase has risen to 5.3%. Is that too high?
This looming 5.3% accumulates on top of 7.84% last year, when the cap was 8%. As well, most fees and charges rose 4% and an extra $135million was to be borrowed. That rate rise was the second-largest since the local government reorganisation of 1989.
The year before the increase had been 2.99%, with the "self-imposed" cap at 3%. While this might at first sound modest, it was still well above inflation, although in the region of local government cost inflation.
It is usually argued, with some justification, that local body inflation rises faster than general inflation, suppressed as they are by cheaper imports and electronic goods. But what about all those ratepayers on fixed incomes? What about those facing financial pressures? Rates are one the largest bills faced by households.
It is easy for councillors to believe they are doing their best. They are also spared the pressure of profit and loss and potential bankruptcy does not loom. Councils can always raise rates. Businesses often cannot raise prices.
Councils have a tendency inherently to be inefficient and not as hard-headed as some businesses. When councils compete directly with the private sector, when they do not hold a monopoly on services, they are easily eclipsed. In Dunedin's case, its performance with its landfill (even allowing for all the extra Government imposed regulations) and crematorium generate little optimism its arms can operate thriftily. Even an operation at arm's length, like council-owned Citibus was, struggled to do well in a competitive arena.
Mayor Dave Cull was reported from a recent council meeting as agreeing with the need for financial discipline, and the council was doing just that while responding to a long list of community requests.
That is the heart of the issue. There will always be too many worthy community issues, and councillors have to make tough and unpopular calls. The only way rates and debt rises can be curtailed are by hard-headed decisions that are likely to upset significant parts of the community and by ruthless efficiency efforts in the council itself.
In many ways councillors are between a rock and a particularly hard place. Can they, say, reject the South Dunedin hub or more money on cycleways or whatever.
There is always a need. There are always projects that would be wonderful to have.
Mr Cull has argued the council has to "invest" if Dunedin is to thrive. There is some truth to that.
But the costs all add up, and there is always a tendency for staff numbers and costs to rise. The pennies quickly become pounds.
To be able to "invest" in particular premier projects and in the fundamentals like water, sewerage and roads, the council cannot proceed with all its bigger projects and it must keep spending reins tight everywhere else as well.