Lavery 'deflated' as extra projects lift rates rise

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 07:25 14/06/2013
Kevin Lavery
Fairfax NZ
KEVIN LAVERY: WCC chief executive

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Wellington

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The city's new chief executive has signalled his disappointment after councillors failed to keep Wellington's rates increase to budget.

"I feel a bit deflated with the annual plan process," Kevin Lavery told city councillors at a committee meeting yesterday as they finally signed off on the annual plan after 2 1/2 days of debate.

The blowout came after councillors voted to fund extra projects - including $250,000 for a living wage for staff, $150,000 towards a shopping development at Lombard Lane, a $112,000 funding boost for Orchestra Wellington and $200,000 more for cycle lane projects.

Planned savings through cutting library hours, charging taxis for using stands and parking charges at the Botanic Gardens were also dropped, pushing up the final bill for ratepayers.

By the time the meeting ended the rates increase for the next financial year had jumped to 2.75 per cent - missing the council's self-imposed target of 2.5 per cent.

The yearly budget will be formally adopted by the full council in two weeks.

Councillor Bryan Pepperell suggested council staff should now work to bring the rates increase back down to 2.5 per cent by that time.

But that suggestion was firmly shot down by Mr Lavery, who likened the annual plan process to a runner celebrating his win before finishing and then being pipped at the post.

The officers had done their job and presented a plan that was under budget, allowing councillors wriggle room for extra projects, he said.

"They actually gave you $300,000 to spare and now we're standing over the budget."

Adding spending without taking out an equivalent amount meant higher rates, so it was up to councillors to trim the rates bill.

"When people put forward spending proposals they need to put forward a balance in savings."

Other councillors did not support Mr Pepperell, instead agreeing with Mr Lavery that if they wanted to bring the rates increase down it was up to them - not council officers.

"This is almost, if you like, forcing the CEO to wring blood out of a stone - a stone that we created," Ray Ahipene-Mercer said.

Simon Marsh said it was like saying "we made the mess, now somebody else clean it up".

Andy Foster said councillors "were all guilty" of pushing rates up, so they would need to try to look for savings before the next meeting.

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- The Dominion Post

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