Spending on yacht race defended

The chairman of the Invercargill City Council's finance committee has defended the council's decision to spend $180,000 from reserve funds on Auckland-to-Bluff yacht race expenses.

Cr Neil Boniface said putting the money in was ''worth a punt''.

''We have done well with events in the past... We are very healthy with reserves. Sometimes you have to spend a little money to make money.''

Ratepayers did not know the council was considering the expenditure, as the debate and vote happened during the public-excluded section of a meeting on Tuesday.

The A2B race, which has a budget of $1.55 million, is being organised by a professional events company.

Up to 30 ocean-going yachts are scheduled to leave Auckland on Waitangi Day next year and make their way around the tip of the North Island and down the west coast to Bluff.

The council had already committed $100,000 to race expenses, but another $180,000 was needed so Southland could secure a $440,000 government economic development grant.

Environment Southland last month turned down a request for it to contribute $180,000 from its coffers.

Cr Boniface was one of 10 councillors supporting the vote. He said he understood the city council's contribution race was a ''one-off'' to ensure the first race happened.

Two councillors - Thelma Buck and Lindsay Abbott - voted against the funding.

Cr Buck said she was ''very annoyed'' about the decision, mainly because councillors still had not seen a detailed race budget even though a budget was given to Environment Southland councillors and the media last month.

''I never spend any money on anything unless I have a budget.''

When asked if he had seen a budget, Cr Boniface said he had not seen a recent one.

''I have seen the original budget, but it keeps changing.''

Cr Buck said she was also annoyed the council was spending money without asking ratepayers first.

The council had just been through an annual plan process where it asked ratepayers about spending $100,000 on the race, but was now committing another $180,000, she said.

''This is not the best use of reserves. We are funding a rich man's sport and some people in this city are having a hard time meeting their own costs.''

Cr Abbott said he was ''disappointed'' with the decision. While the race had merit, he said he was not prepared to commit more ratepayer money until he saw detailed costings.

Race organisers and city council chief executive Richard King are briefing councillors this afternoon and will front up to two public meetings this week.

The first is at the Bluff Bowling Club, Barrow St, at 7.30pm today, while an Invercargill meeting will take place at 5.30pm tomorrow in the Civic Theatre Drawing Room.

Cr Abbott said while he thought the reaction from Bluff residents would be supportive, there might be some angry ratepayers at the Invercargill meeting.

Mr King said in a statement the public would be able to ask questions at the meetings and would also have the chance for ''one-on-one interaction'' with key organisers and himself after the group session.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt could not be reached for comment.

- allison.rudd@alliedpress.co.nz


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