Threat to grants as focus changes

BILL MOORE
Last updated 12:00 23/02/2013

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The future of some Nelson City Council community grants is under threat but most councillors are adamant that they will continue to back the mayor's community Christmas dinner.

The grants are being reviewed as councillors grapple with the Government's new focus on the purpose of local government and its impact on council spending.

At Thursday's infrastructure meeting the Youth Development Fund, Youth Nelson, the council's social wellbeing policy action plan, its school enviro education programme, preschool, after school and holiday programme grants were all shown as intended for "transition".

The staff recommendation was that all be reviewed "in order to align with the new purpose of local government, with the intention to cease funding in the medium term".

But after a long and sometimes spirited debate the "intention to cease funding" was removed, with only a review left in place.

Councillor Rachel Reese said the council's youth awards and mayor's Christmas dinner had also been discussed at a workshop on the issue last week.

She suggested all the grants on the list should be reviewed together to see if they aligned with the new definition before any funding decisions were taken.

"In that list we've actually got Youth Nelson and that is a really significant organisation in the city. I wouldn't mind sitting down and having a conversation with our local member of Parliament as to what his thinking is in relation to Youth Nelson and what his thinking is in relation to ceasing the mayor's Christmas dinner - if that was what Parliament intended."

Other councillors also disagreed with the composition of the list and had different views on whether the workshop had intended that the funding be phased out, or simply reviewed.

Councillor Ian Barker was a lone voice. "Everyone knows that I've been a campaigner to get these reforms in," he said. "We no longer have to provide for the social, environmental, economic and cultural wellbeing of our communities. That's gone.

"Now the purpose of local government is to meet the current and future needs of the communities for good-quality local infrastructure, local public services and the performance of regulatory functions in the way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses."

He said the mayor's Christmas dinner was an example of what did not fit. It had been run for many years at no cost to the ratepayers, organised and provided by volunteers.

"Like other things, it's just grown into something that the ratepayers will pay for."

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Mayor Aldo Miccio said the entire subject had been discussed in private at the workshop and councillors should not use the public meeting to "grandstand".

The city contributed $1500 to the dinner, which is attended by many of the district's elderly. The Tasman District Council also gave a donation and most of the food and labour was donated.

"Don't try to mislead the media here that the mayor's Christmas dinner is completely funded by Nelson ratepayers," he said.

The annual dinner found its staunchest defender in councillor Gail Collingwood, who said the cost to the city was minimal and it was "all about public service".

"It's completely voluntary. People give up their Christmas Day, and they give up masses of time before to deliver the mayor's Christmas dinner. It's one of our ways of providing a public service and supporting our community to support others."

She said it was pathetic to spend time discussing the funding for the dinner or the community awards and youth award that the council supports at little cost. All were ways of helping or recognising deserving members of the community.

"Thank you, Cr Collingwood," Cr Reese said. "They were absolutely words that needed to be said. The functions we perform are many and varied and valuable. They don't warrant a mean-spirited approach to the community."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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