Call to lock in plans for replacement arts space

The existing earthquake-damaged museum. Photo: SUPPLIED / ICC
The existing earthquake-damaged museum. Photo: SUPPLIED / ICC
An Invercargill resident says the local council should stop procrastinating and get on with building the new Southland Museum and Art Gallery.

But some have raised concerns during the Invercargill City Council's annual plan hearing today that the redevelopment bill - and a forecast rates hike - would be a burden for struggling ratepayers.

The museum has been closed since 2018 after it was found to be an earthquake hazard.

The council committed to invest close to $40 million to redevelop the city's museum and art gallery in its Long Term Plan last year.

The main three options for redevelopment are:

  • Earthquake strengthening the existing pyramid building which would cost $57.1m
  • A smaller, 3550 square metre new build - $65.3m
  • A larger, 4150 square metre new build - $75.7m

The latter two involve the demolition of the pyramid-shaped existing building.

Resident Noel Peterson said the new build should have a wow factor without adding more burden to ratepayers.

"I got my ear chewed by quite a few people that were concerned about the cost to ratepayers and there were people that were on fixed incomes and in difficult times and saying 'I just won't be able to pay it'."

The council has confirmed that all of the options required additional council funding compared to what was laid out in last year's Long Term Plan due to cost escalations, higher build costs, and a lower than expected level of external funding.

Resident Des Jonker said he wanted the council to lock in the plans - preferably the larger option - and start building as soon as it can.

"I think we've procrastinated enough. We just need to get on with it. The more positive people that have that attitude, then we'll get something done.

"The cost is the cost. It's going to cost the ratepayers no matter what. The bigger the better. Do it once, do it right."

Opponent worried about cost
Robin Brash did not agree, saying the cost of the larger build didn't make sense when it was compared to the cost of other upgrades in the city including the City Block development.

"Do you realise that you're talking about ($75.7 million) to build one museum and they can build a whole city block for $180 million. Where is the costing?"

He did not believe it would be worth the cost.

But the new museum's cost wasn't the only issue on residents' minds.

Originally in the Long Term Plan, the Invercargill City Council forecast a four percent rates increase in 2022-23.

That has now been forecast to rise to 7.78 percent due to new projects and other external factors.

Sue Smith said many would suffer if the council went ahead with the rates increase.

"Single parents, pensioners, young families are really struggling. There is no bought coffees, dinners or discretionary spending in my budget.

"Last year's rate increase of $160 was hard enough. It is unacceptable and not affordable to hit the ratepayer again."

Instead she urged the council to rein in its project spending and find other cost saving measures before putting up the rates.

"Why can't I and others afford to keep our own homes that we have worked so hard for when ICC have enough assets to cover their costs?

"The rate increase will push up rentals which are already unaffordable. Does the ICC need more homeless people in Invercargill?"

Carolyn Weston from the Blind Citizens Southland Branch said the rates increase could mean some members would have to restrict their food or medical access.

"Most of our members are on low or fixed incomes, and with the recent increases in the cost of living, including rising petrol and grocery prices our members as well as a large proportion of the public do not have the income to be able to afford a rates increase of any more than the 4 percent signalled in the Long Term Plan," she said.

Deputy maor Nobby Clark, submitting as a private citizen, proposed that the council could put...
Deputy maor Nobby Clark, submitting as a private citizen, proposed that the council could put forward an unbalanced budget, look to its reserves and for savings instead of putting up rates. Photo: ODT/ Luisa Girao

Deputy mayor Nobby Clark opted to submit as a private citizen in his role with the Invercargill Ratepayer Advocacy Group.

His submission outlined concerns about the rates increase and the impact that it was having on vulnerable members of the community.

"Do you see they face the same pressures as council, but have less ability to balance their weekly situation at home?

"They predominantly face cutting costs and lowering their quality of life."

He proposed that council could put forward an unbalanced budget, look to its reserves and for savings instead of putting up rates.

When asked if the Long Term Plan that was signed off last year was too ambitious and if it should be revisited, he said they needed to start again and recalculate the true costs.

He wasn't confident they could meet their project goals because of supply and workforce shortages.

But he also said that it was unlikely they could meet the timeframes they needed to.

The Invercargill City Council will deliberate on the Annual Plan next Tuesday ahead of its adoption before the end of June.

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