Mayor's case against reforms

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 07:39 07/08/2012

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It takes more than narrowly focused infrastructure, services and regulatory activities to make a vibrant community that people enjoyed living in, the Marlborough District Council has told Parliament.

In a submission on the Local Government Amendment Bill, the council has opposed the Government's plan to cut councils' social and community roles and to impose rate-increase caps.

Mayor Alistair Sowman said measures were already in place to deal with councils that were not financially prudent.

"Council is unaware, except for a very few isolated incidences over the past 10 years, where the current purpose statement has led to councils operating outside their traditional role."

A law change a year ago made councils focus on core services of network infrastructure, public transport services, rubbish collection, avoidance of natural hazards, and libraries, museums, reserves, recreational facilities, and other community infrastructure. Mr Sowman said that law had not had a chance to show it was effective.

"Council contends that this legislation clearly sets the important areas from Government's perspective and should be given time to demonstrate its effectiveness. Council spends more than 95 per cent of its capital budget on those activities and regulatory functions required by other law.

"There is little discretionary spending under the current legislative framework and as a result, council questions the need for change."

Capping rates increases would not take into account the particular circumstances of each council, he said.

"How would these parameters cope with one-off increases in expenditure? For example, in Marlborough we have approved a $5 million grant to enable the construction of a new performing arts theatre. This grant caused a significant lift in council's expenditure, well above the combination of growth and consumer price index, but was funded from a reserve that represented the accumulation of section-sale profits. There was no increase in rates."

The proposal could also stop the council having targeted rates for specific economic development projects, such as irrigation schemes.

"The biggest increase that's occurred in total rates over recent years arose as a result of council establishing the 4500-hectare Southern Valleys' irrigation scheme. A significant lift in economic activity has resulted."

The bill has gone to the local government and environment select committee, which is due to report back to Parliament on whether to make any changes by mid-October.

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- The Marlborough Express

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