Harder to pick mayoral favourite

Having seven candidates standing for the Waitaki mayoralty has turned the contest into a bit of a lottery, making it difficult to pick a likely favourite.

In May, incumbent Alex Familton (71) said he would seek a third term, but in July announced he had changed his mind and withdrew because of other options in the future.

That led to unprecedented interest in the mayoralty and, when nominations closed, Dunedin city councillor Fliss Butcher (55), Waitaki deputy mayor Jim Hopkins (66), former Waitaki deputy mayor Gary Kircher (49), secondary school teacher Greg Smith (30), semi-retired Eric Spittal (70), Waitaki councillor Helen Stead (74) and civic and social organisation professional David Wilson (55) had put their hats in the ring.

With fewer candidates, the frontrunners would probably have been Mr Kircher and Mr Hopkins, with their deputy mayor experience.

But the five other candidates will have their own strengths and enclaves of support, drawing votes away from the main contenders.

Mrs Butcher and Mrs Stead are seeking to become the first woman mayor in both Oamaru borough and Waitaki district history, which may gain support from women voters.

Put all that in the mix, and a surprise result could be possible if the support is equal between a number of candidates.

In contrast, interest in the council and community boards has been weak.

The inland Waitaki Valley ward of Ahuriri had no nomination for the one seat on the council left vacant by incumbent Craig Dawson deciding not to stand.

Ahuriri's five-member community board had three nominations.

That will result in a council and board by-election, possibly costing up to $20,000, early next year, unless nominations match the vacancies.

The Oamaru ward, which elects six councillors, has a healthy 12 candidates, five of whom are seeking re-election. Included in that mix are younger candidates than have stood before.

The Waihemo ward has two standing for one position, while nine are seeking the five seats on the Waihemo Community Board.

Some surprise issues have emerged, and the usual complaint about rates increases or level of rates has been subdued this year, the council having kept increases down in the past two years.

One issue that unexpectedly popped up was the renewal of chief executive Michael Ross' contract for a further two years, something the council could legally do.

Candidates have been asked what sort of person they would want as chief executive when that two years is up, particularly with moves by the Government to reorganise local government which could threaten Waitaki's future.

Another purely local issue has been a Steampunk tearooms planned overlooking Friendly Bay, which received a non-notified resource consent in 2010 which was not well known.

A start on digging foundations for the building has shocked some people into action, either opposing it or wanting it on another site.

However, candidates are in a difficult legal position in terms of promising to do anything about it - a lease has already been entered into and a resource consent granted.

The state of roading has also become a hot topic, present councillors pointing out great improvements had been made in recent months.

An annual residents' survey by the council showed satisfaction with roads had fallen from 63% to 34%.

Better news in the survey was that satisfaction with the present council had risen from 45% to 60%, boosting the chances of those seeking re-election.

Economic development and creating jobs are issues that will be common to other areas across the South Island, and candidates were questioned about what they would do to encourage Holcim (NZ) Ltd to proceed with its Weston cement plant.

That is also reflected in concern for the effects of council expenditure on low-income workers and those on fixed incomes, including elderly and retired people, of whom Waitaki has a greater proportion than most other areas.

david.bruce@odt.co.nz

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