$26m of projects deferred

"Looking the fool" is how one councillor describes the Whangarei District Council after it was forced to defer $26 million worth of capital projects.

A wide range of projects from cycleways to pensioner housing upgrades have been deferred until the 2013-14 year to help balance the council's budget, despite the financial year only starting in July.

Support services manager Alan Adcock says the $26m deferral is necessary so the council doesn't blow out its debt budget of $161.5m by the end of this financial year.

A large number of works being carried over from last year, a lack of property sales and starting the year with higher debt than expected are the reasons, he says.

"We think it's prudent to defer some projects," he says.

"Nothing is coming out of the programme."

Priority this year has been given to finishing the Lower Hatea River crossing and Ruakaka South wastewater scheme, wastewater projects which eliminate spills into Whangarei Harbour, roading projects which get significant central government subsidies, contracts already let and projects which would cost a lot to delay.

Virtually everything else has been delayed.

Councillor Crichton Christie says the council has been made to look foolish and councillors should have realised when setting the budget that the capital works programme was unachievable.

"We had a wishlist that was unachievable and now we've come to our senses.

"The problem that I face is that it took us four months into the year to come to that solution. In my view it should have been done right at the start."

Mr Christie says people now have expectations the council will deliver the projects it promised.

"It makes a mockery of the annual plan process when we take $26m worth of projects out of the capital works."

But finance and support committee chairman Warwick Syers says the council is being prudent.

Each year the council has projects which are deferred.

This year nearly $13m was carried over from the 2011-12 year, Mr Syers says.

"Moving to $26m is not a huge difference - it's only an extra $13m on top of the $13m we deferred last year."

Councillor Greg Martin says no councillors are happy with the cuts.

But he says the Hundertwasser Art Centre should be reconsidered.

"Still the elephant in the room is Hundertwasser."

Whangarei Leader