Wellington city councillors have been meeting this week to decide how to cut $180 million from their budget over the next 10 years.
By the end of yesterday, they had succeeded only in adding $34.4m to the spending bill and increasing the likely burden on ratepayers.
After three days of debate, the council's strategy and policy committee finally signed off the draft long-term plan yesterday - but with a higher rates bill than when they started.
On Tuesday, Wellington ratepayers faced a 3.3 per cent rise in the next financial year, but by the close of discussions yesterday it was 4.4 per cent.
The increase takes the council over its self-imposed limit of 3.8 per cent. New legislation requires councils to agree financial strategies setting limits, and comes as Local Government Minister Nick Smith moves to pare back their responsibilities to core services. However, there is no formal penalty for breaching the limits.
Councillors were warned last year that they needed to cut spending by $180m in the next decade to cover items that include $100m for leaky homes liability and $44m to earthquake- strengthen buildings.
Frustration boiled over as they balked at proposed cuts. "The whole thing's becoming farcical - why don't we just put everything back in," Cr Jo Coughlan said at one point.
But Mayor Celia Wade-Brown was confident the rates bill would come down by the time the plan is adopted in June.
The council had made a "reasonable start" but more work would be done, including public consultation. The council had asked officers to find $100m of savings over 10 years from the renewals budget, which funds the maintenance of assets, she said.
Among projects contributing to the growing rates bill was a doubling of funding for a replacement venue while Wellington Town Hall is being earthquake-strengthened, taking the amount to $4m. The venue will be out of action for two years. Last week, representatives from Positively Wellington Venues warned the council the best replacement option - refurbishing TSB Bank Arena and the neighbouring Shed 6 - would cost $5m, and if a replacement wasn't funded, the local economy risked losing $14m a year because conferences would go elsewhere.
Yesterday, councillors said they wanted the public to be able to comment on a realistic figure, and there was no point putting $2m in the plan. "It should either be nought or $4m," Ms Wade- Brown said.
Others said the funding was vital to ensure the city remained a destination for conferences.
"For me it comes back to being the events capital, and business events are part of the mix," Cr Paul Eagle said.
However, Cr Justin Lester argued there were enough venues in Wellington to cover the shortfall, and Positively Wellington Venues should be thinking of creative solutions.
A motion by Cr Coughlan to restore about $17m of funding for a pool extension at the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre failed. The funding would have been spread from 2013-14 to 2016-17.
Cr Coughlan argued the city was missing out on opportunities to host international events. "What we're talking about here is strengthening the offering we've got. Having a brilliant community facility but having the option of bringing events to the city as well."
However, other councillors said the project was not a priority.
What Now? The draft long-term plan will go to the full council on April 3 for final sign-off. Changes can still be made at that stage. The draft will then go out for public consultation. People will have a month to have their say. After considering public views, the council will debate and alter the plan again, before formally adopting it in June.
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