Plan for long-term rates rises disquieting

Dunedin City Council critic Calvin Oaten questions whether the council's long-term plan actually does achieve a balance between affordable rates, debt reduction and investment for the future.

Once again the Dunedin City Council has completed the annual process of producing the obligatory long-term plan.

This is to set the budgets and forward projections for the city over the 10 years to 2024-25.

In his introduction, Mayor Dave Cull outlines the aims and objects.

He is confident that in developing Dunedin's annual budget, the council has achieved a balance between affordable rates, debt reduction and investment in enhanced city facilities and services for the future.

But has it?

Firstly, there had previously been a firm commitment any future rates increases would be absolutely capped at 3%.

Well, we now have an increase of 3.8%, due, he says to a reduction in dividends from the council-owned companies and a different way of funding Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Because of this, the 3.8% rise was essential if the city

was to maintain services and take advantage of opportunities like the Gigatown win, the Unesco Creative Cities of Literature designation and accelerating the Portobello Rd safety improvements.

Mr Cull also makes the point debt reduction is an essential part of the council's financial strategy and calls for any savings or underspend be considered first for debt repayment.

That in itself is interesting, as when recently group chief financial officer Grant McKenzie identified a small surplus of $2 million, did this go to debt repayment?

No, it was swooped upon by Cr Richard Thomson and it is now dedicated towards the proposed Logan Park cricket ground's lights.

Without so much as a blink of the eye, we now see $2.2 million embedded in the new capital expenditure programme, under Parks and Reserves, albeit with an ''asterisk'' indicating ''with full or partial external funding sources''.

Obviously, that is the Otago Cricket Association's undertaking to come up with at least the balance.

There is also the notice that capital expenditure of $410,000 in 2016-17, plus $14.578 million in 2018-19, is budgeted for a new Mosgiel Pool.

Once again ''asterisked'', but that could simply mean plus outside contributions.

In both instances, if the figures are in the plan then it is a commitment, or else the document is fraudulent and arguably illegal.

As the capital expenditure programme is shown to be more than $60million a year for the 10 years, it is difficult to see how reductions can be expected.

As a matter of interest, despite the disquiet I can see no reference to any capital set aside for the St Clair sea wall, only $225,000 in 2015-16 for a ramp and stairs.

Without relitigating all the old chestnuts of economic moment, suffice to say there are other points of concern.

While Mayor Cull lays claims of debt reduction, the 10-year projections are for rates increases of 3.8%, 4.9%, 5%, 4%, 3.9%, 4.5%, 2.3%, 3.9%, 2.3% and 2.7%.

In monetary terms, total rates will move from $125 million to $130 million and on upwards to pass $180 million in 2024-25.

Why does he expect the citizens to greet this with enthusiasm, I wonder?

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