Ratepayers resolute in opposition to spending

Several Waitaki ratepayers have made their opposition to two costly Otago Regional Council projects loud and clear.

Neither the Otago stadium nor proposed new waterfront offices for council staff was a priority, they told councillors Gretchen Robertson, Bryan Scott, Stephen Woodhouse, Duncan Butcher, Louise Croot and Doug Brown at a long-term council community plan hearing in Oamaru yesterday, urging the council to concentrate on core business such as river management plans, trying to halt coastal erosion, and protecting the environment.

The ORC has agreed to contribute $37.5 million towards the $198 million stadium in Awatea St, Dunedin, and plans to spend another $31.5 million on offices and a public reserve in Birch St, overlooking Otago Harbour.

Yesterday's submitters said ratepayers could not afford them.

Former Waitaki deputy mayor Ron Sim urged the council not to take ratepayers into an "empire of debt".

Local and central government had to be good stewards of ratepayer or taxpayer money, especially during a time of worldwide depression, he said.

Financial difficulties were already beginning to affect "good honest people" in Oamaru and elsewhere.

"I would like to see you guys starting to make some serious attempts at retrenchment. We [ratepayers] have to cut costs and spend less, and you guys should too."

Submitter Gerry Angus was more blunt.

"You do not have the right to plunder our wages to fund your dreams."

He said he would be with-holding the portion of his rates levied for the stadium as he did not intend to pay for something he did not use.

Cr Brown said the average Waitaki ratepayer would pay about $20 a year for the stadium, although larger businesses and farmers would pay more.

Several said the ORC was "empire building" with its Birch St headquarters proposal.

Mr Angus said if the existing Stafford St office building was too small, the answer was to cut staff, not build more offices.

Architectural designer Bruce Parker said he believed the council could refit and reconfigure its Stafford St offices for $16 million.

The benefits of a refit would be a lower cost which would be able to be spread over several years, and a building with a considerably lower carbon footprint than a new one.

"Through an innovative refit, the council would be an example to the community of how to reuse an existing building."

He offered to discuss his ideas with the council, and suggested the council put the office plans on hold for a year to seek more input on whether ratepayers favoured a refit over a new building.


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