Criticism by Taxpayers' Union 'embarrassing'

A concept design of the Network Waitaki Events Centre, which was given the go-ahead by the...
A concept design of the Network Waitaki Events Centre, which was given the go-ahead by the Waitaki District Council this week. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
The Taxpayers’ Union has slammed the Waitaki District Council for rushing "head-first" into a decision on the new $32 million events centre, but the statement has been called misleading and embarrassing by one of the council’s strongest critics.

This week the Waitaki District Council approved the Network Waitaki Events Centre, and construction is planned to begin in April.

Yesterday, the Taxpayers’ Union released a statement criticising the move, which said the council lacked "a sound funding plan" and had "next to no regard for those pesky things called finances".

The Taxpayers' Union cites many figures, but they have been disputed by the mayor and the Waitaki Ratepayers and Residents Association, a group known for its strong criticism of the council.

The Taxpayers' Union said 20% of council staff were on salaries above $100,000, but association chairman Ray Henderson said the figure was misleading and ignored staff of council-owned operations, which included Oamaru Hospital and the Observatory Retirement Village.

In the release, Taxpayers’ Union policy adviser James Ross said the association had "been calling on their council from the beginning to come up with a workable plan that does not involve demands for ratepayers to foot the bill".

Mr Henderson said it was "embarrassing" to have the group associated with the misleading figures presented.

He had not been contacted by the Taxpayers’ Union and being quoted by it discredited the association.

"It doesn’t paint us in a good light."

Waitaki District Mayor Gary Kircher has also disputed the claims of the Taxpayers’ Union, including its statement the centre was a "vanity project".

The release cites a $2.7m shortfall as well as a further $4m for the second stage of the project.

Mr Kircher said the $2.7m was planned to be raised through community fundraising and third party trusts, which was outlined in the business case given to the council.

"Much of this funding can only be accessed once the project has commenced and not before."

The report given to the council outlined the risk and how it would be handled if the funding was not acquired.

The $4m was for the second stage of the project, which had not yet been agreed to by the council, he said.

No ratepayer money would go towards that portion of the funding and it was instead the responsibility of stakeholders.

Calling it a vanity project was "typical of a Wellington-based lobbying group out of touch with real people’s lives", he said.

"If the Taxpayers’ Union had done its homework it would have found that the council has consulted on the events centre a number of times, including the ratepayer funding of some of the costs, and that the overwhelming majority of residents support the facility."