Less debt the focus as council eyes plan

A debt-conscious Queenstown Lakes District Council yesterday began picking its way through a "wish list" of projects submitters want to see become reality by 2022.

The council's draft 10-year plan, based on an earlier round of submissions, was released in April this year and attracted 293 written submissions, most saying Wanaka's proposed sports facilities should not be a priority.

The council heard 27 submitters in Wanaka yesterday and another 34 are scheduled to give presentations in Queenstown today.

The final long-term plan should take effect from July 1, after deliberations and amendments.

Wanaka submitters barely talked about the proposed Wanaka sports facilities yesterday. Wanaka Community Board chairman Lyal Cocks supported the project while resource economist Dr Nick Brown issued a warning against open-ended financial commitments to stadium-building.

Instead, social services organisations sought help paying rent, the Lake Hawea Community Association asked for funding for amenity improvements, Golf Course Rd residents requested connections to the town wastewater scheme and the Wanaka Residents Association called for the installation of a $6.6 million microfiltration system to prevent algae build-up in household taps and appliances.

Warbirds Over Wanaka supported the creation of a council-funded events office and applied for a waiver of $18,000 worth of landing and licence fees for the next two airshows, developers pooh-poohed proposed changes to development contributions, and Cardrona residents said they felt left out of the plan, despite providing the top visitor attractions in the district.

In Queenstown today, councillors will hear demands from more community associations, sports clubs, churches, developers and businesses.

QLDC finance manager Stewart Burns told the Otago Daily Times during a break in the hearing the council wanted to contain the next rates increase to a modest 2.8% and there was "pressure on that".

Council officers would be asked to provide some estimates. Some projects, such as the Golf Course sewerage connections, had not been scoped, Mr Burns said.

The council has been on an austerity drive since 2009, after being criticised by the Auditor-general for its $400 million projected debt.

A finance committee "razor gang" has already slashed more than $130 million worth of capital projects from the last edition of the 10-year plan, with at least $6.5 million saved from Wanaka's capital works budget alone.

The council has also started receiving dividends from the Queenstown Airport Corporation to community projects ($2.46 million received in September last year) and 54% of submitters supported an equal split of that money between debt reduction and community projects.

Mayor Vanessa van Uden told the Otago Daily Times the council's biggest focus was to reduce debt, and it was taking a hard look at both capital spending and operational spending.

Submitters had been realistic, she said.

While 60% of submitters had said Wanaka's proposed new sports facilities should not be a priority, the council needed to address the "identified gap" in Wanaka's sports needs, Ms van Uden said.

A proposed expansion of Queenstown's events facilities would also be "nice to have" and the council would have to do "a balancing act" because it could not afford to do everything, she said.

"The council doesn't have any money. We only have their [ratepayers'] money.

"Every time we do something, we have to be sure it is in the best interests of everybody."

Dr Brown reminded the council that in 2010 its projected debt was "well beyond any other territorial authority in the country", and reduction of debt should be a "major plank".

Council-controlled company dividends should be entirely applied to debt reduction and not to community projects, he said.

While there was an urgent, current need for new sports facilities in Wanaka, he questioned the proposed building costs of $12.4 million, compared with $5.1 million spent building Balclutha's new sports facilities.

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