Opinion: City council boss lays out plan to ease burden on ratepayers

Dawn Baxendale. Photo: Newsline/CCC
Dawn Baxendale. Photo: Newsline/CCC
Christchurch City Council chief executive Dawn Baxendale has been tasked with finding ways to ease the pressure on ratepayers. She outlines her plans for doing that.

Christchurch City Council cannot expect the city’s residents to continually dig deeper into their pockets to finance the organisation’s work.

We live in a vibrant 21st century city and there is much for us to feel proud about. But as an organisation we have to find ways to work smarter, more cost-effectively, and efficiently so that we are not constantly asking Christchurch ratepayers for more of their hard-earned cash.

The 2018-28 Long Term Plan signalled a 50 per cent increase in rates over the next 10 years but nobody wants to see that kind of financial pressure placed on our residents - many of whom are elderly or on fixed incomes.

The mayor and councillors have challenged me to bring down the size of those rate increases and I am determined to see that happen.

I have told council staff that I want them to think differently about how we are spending the public’s money. I believe it is incumbent on all us, as public servants, to try and bring the city’s costs down.

To do that, we have to put all of our spending under a microscope. We need to think about what we are spending money on, how we are spending it, and whether there is a better, more cost-effective way.

As an organisation we provide many valued and essential services and facilities, but do all the services and facilities that we provide need to be platinum-plated? Could some of them be provided in a more basic boilerplate form, or somewhere in between?

When you are looking to buy a car, you don’t automatically go the top end of the market and buy a Rolls Royce. You think about what you need the car for, how much it will cost to run, how reliable it will be, and how much it will cost to repair. Then, you make an informed choice about what vehicle will suit you best.

We need to take that same approach when we are spending money on behalf of our ratepayers.

I am not saying that we should buy cheap and nasty. That could be a false economy because we could end up having to replace things every year.  What I am saying is that we need to properly weigh-up what is the best investment decision to give us longevity, return on our investment, and satisfaction to residents.

We have to scrutinise everything and make sure we are spending efficiently.

Doing this type of ‘root and branch’ budget review takes time. My focus is on getting the review completed in time for it to feed into the development of the 2021-31 Long Term Plan (LTP).

When we sit down to begin work on the LTP, which will set out the council’s work programme for the next 10-years and how it plans to finance it, I want to be able to present the elected members with properly researched, well considered choices about how and where money should be spent.

Armed with those choices, we can then start to have real conversations about where people want their hard-earned cash to go and how they want Christchurch to develop so that we get improved outcomes for residents.

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