Ratepayers facing bill for stadium

Almost all Waitaki district ratepayers would help pay for a new $188 million stadium in Dunedin - if the Otago Regional Council decided to help fund the complex to the tune of $37.5 million.

That follows an about-face by the Waitaki District Council yesterday, the only local authority in the Otago region which had refused to authorise the ORC to make a decision on contributing to the proposed stadium.

In June last year, the Waitaki council, heeding opposition from its ratepayers in a survey, refused to allow the ORC to rate Waitaki ratepayers for the proposed stadium.

But the ORC this month wrote to the Waitaki council, urging it to reconsider.

At yesterday's meeting were Dunedin Mayor Peter Chin, Dunedin City Council chief executive Jim Harland, ORC chairman Stephen Cairns, Otago Moeraki councillor Doug Brown, ORC chief executive Graeme Martin and ORC corporate services director Wayne Scott, along with nine Waitaki ratepayers.

Before the public meeting, ORC representatives briefed the Waitaki council in private.
An attempt by Cr Rod Bidois to allow the ORC to consult on, but not to authorise it to contribute to, the proposed stadium, was lost 6-4 when put to the vote.

After the meeting, Mr Cairns acknowledged to the Otago Daily Times that his council could have legally carried out the consultation without the Waitaki council changing its mind.

However, he said he was not comfortable with that.
‘‘Because of the decision last year [by the Waitaki council] we would have been thumbing our noses at the council. That would not have been good,'' he said.

The council, on a voice vote, gave the authorisation to the ORC. Crs Bidois, Helen Stead and Jim Hopkins recorded their opposition.

The council did add conditions. The first was that the ORC had to undertake a special consultation process with regional ratepayers about contributing to the stadium. That was passed unanimously.

The second was that the ORC considered any funding recognising issues such as ability to pay, distance and district demographics. That was also unanimous.

Mr Cairns was pleased with the outcome, both for his council and its region.

‘‘I and my council do not need reminding that this is our process and we will be accountable for the ultimate decision,'' he said.

Not all Waitaki ratepayers would pay for the proposed stadium if the ORC decided to contribute. Waitaki's Ahuriri ward is in the Canterbury region and cannot be rated by the ORC.

At the public forum before the meeting, three ratepayers strongly opposed committing Waitaki ratepayers to helping fund the stadium.

Louisa Burrell was ‘‘very, very annoyed'' the council was reconsidering the issue, particularly after opposition in last year's survey.

‘‘The only reason you are revisiting it is because the regional council did not get its way,'' she said.

Ray Henderson described himself as ‘‘an irate citizen and ratepayer'' and said the Waitaki council must ensure there would never be a levy for the stadium on its ratepayers.

Deputy mayor Gary Kircher moved the authorisation, and added the two conditions. It was seconded by Cr Pam Spite.

Cr Kircher said the Waitaki council was not there to decide on the stadium and Cr Spite described last year's survey, in which 53.8% of those in the Waitaki district opposed building the stadium, as ‘‘a loose indicator, not a referendum''.

Cr Hopkins had no hesitation in supporting the ORC's consultation, but did not support authorising the ORC to contribute to the stadium.

Waitaki Mayor Alex Familton said people could still influence the final decision on the stadium.

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