Mayoral hopefuls square off
Nelson city mayoral candidates will be searching for the X-factor that sets each apart, after a display of near-uniform thinking. The Lee Valley dam, tourism funding and debt were hot topics, meanwhile, for the Tasman candidates at the same luncheon forum.
All Nelson city mayoral hopefuls, except St Arnaud pig farmer Richard Osmaston, fronted at a combined Nelson and Tasman mayoral candidates' address to the Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce lunch yesterday. Four of the five Tasman candidates, except former repeat Nelson mayoral candidate Gary Watson, also took the opportunity to give a five-minute speech each and answer questions.
Brian McGurk, who retires tomorrow from a long career with the police, said he knew the Nelson community well, but felt it had disengaged from local government and that was an aspect he wanted to fix.
"The feeling I get is that this council hasn't been listening.
"I aim to improve the level and quality of engagement with the community."
Incumbent Aldo Miccio said unlike the times facing Nelson's earliest mayors, who were charged with developing the city, core services were now standard, and no longer a point of difference.
"Mayors are now also ambassadors and champions for their regions."
Miccio continued to support a push for amalgamation of the Nelson and Tasman councils because he believed it was important for the region.
Rachel Reese likened yesterday's rapid presentation format as a little like "speed dating" and that she hoped she would be asked back for another date.
She said along with transport, issues around Tahunanui and Stoke and woodburners in homes, financial accountability remained a top priority.
"Real work will be needed to bring rates rises down," she said of the next council, which faced inheriting a "significant financial problem".
Candidates were asked their views on the biggest challenge facing business and what the council could do to overcome it.
They were also asked what additional support they would give tourism.
Reese said several very good opportunities existed, including the number of businesses emerging from the city's freshwater and sea resources.
"Council imposes costs and we need to look at that."
It also needed to make good on its promises.
Reese said the council was already a strong supporter of tourism, but she agreed more could be done.
The Brook Waimarama Sanctuary was an obvious attraction to entice people to stay longer.
"It's perfectly positioned to keep people in the urban area."
She said Nelson could also do more to develop better links with the cruise ship industry, a regional brand which was important for anyone who ran a business here, and better relationships among regional airports for the purpose of creating "flight paths" in which visitors might be encouraged to stop en route to other destinations.
Miccio said much of Nelson's economic future depended on development of the Lee Valley dam, because of its contribution to the primary sector.
"It's the single biggest challenge facing the region right now," he said.
Miccio agreed that further investment in tourism was needed.
He envisaged merging the roles and responsibilities of tourism promotion and economic development.
This was so to create a structure that was accountable and which could accurately measure the success of what it supported.
McGurk said a key performance indicator of the council chief executive ought to include a measure on the ease of doing business with the council.
He said the key to assessing further support for tourism was whether it presented good value for money.
He agreed efforts were needed to help increase visitor nights in Nelson.
Mayor Richard Kempthorne, councillor Kit Maling, Jester House co-owner Steve Richards and ambulance operator Maxwell Clark all attended the meeting, held at the Trailways Hotel.
Clark was against the Lee Valley dam. "It must not go ahead. Its only capability is to financially ruin our district. It would create massive borrowing."
He said he wanted to embrace and expand the role of community boards, streamline the resource consent process, make financial planning more flexible and rein in council debt.
Kempthorne said the dam was the most critical infrastructure needed for the next 20 years.
"We have an undersupply of water at the moment, if we don't have the dam we will have significant claw-backs from existing water users and basically intensive use of land on the Waimea Plains won't be able to continue."
The real issue was affordability and a lot of work would be done on that over the next year.
He said he had done a very good job as mayor over the past six years, it had been "a stunning council to work with" and he was keen for another term.
Shared services with the Nelson council were working well and could grow, such as in providing a single landfill for both. He did not talk about the council's debt.
Maling, a former orchardist who is completing his first term on the TDC, said he was the chairman of the Waimea East Irrigation Company and had been involved with the Lee Valley dam project for 10 years. "Without that dam, growing produce on the Waimea Plains as we do it today, intensively, will not happen."
The council had to address its debt of $158 million, projected to go to $311m.
"It's not prudent, sustainable or affordable to go to $311m."
Rates were high by national standards, a major review of operational spending was required, Tasman needed to look after its environment properly and the TDC needed to be "an enabling council" that was easy for ratepayers to deal with.
Richards said he was in favour of the dam as core infrastructure. The funding model had not been worked out but "some of the dam is not about economic benefit, it's about environmental benefit", so a portion of the funding should come from everybody.
The two key things he wanted to bring to Tasman as mayor were that everybody in Tasman was welcome, and that everybody knew they were somewhere special.
"Tasman is the best place in New Zealand to live, probably the best place in the world. That's what I want to bring more than anything, that pride."
On tourism support, Richards said he would continue the council's existing measurable funding and backed development of the Great Taste Trail, with cycling a huge growth industry.
Maling said the TDC was already giving over $400,000 to tourism and it should not give any more. Tourism was an industry, not a core business. "I'm sorry, no extra funding at all. We are cash-strapped. But it doesn't mean we shouldn't be a business-friendly council that can work with tourism operators."
Kempthorne said "the first challenge" was maintaining the existing funding for Tourism Nelson-Tasman, with a study under way to see the justification for general ratepayer funding.
"I don't see that increasing."
The council was expanding the Great Taste Trail, opening it up first to Kaiteriteri, with the next stage over the next three to four years taking it up the Motueka Valley to Kohatu and back to Wakefield, with great potential for tourist operators.
- © Fairfax NZ News