Staff cuts mooted to prune expenses
The Tasman District Council's 230 staff could be facing job cuts after the election, a Grey Power candidates' meeting in Richmond last night heard.
This was the view of several candidates who suggested pruning staff as a way to save costs to keep down rates and borrowing.
But council chief executive Lindsay McKenzie said this morning that there was no staffing review under way, in contrast to what's happening at the Nelson City Council.
"You always keep operating costs under review but our problem will not be solved by gutting the organisation's staff resources, it will only be solved by refocusing on our borrowing. The issue is one of capital and debt rather than staff resources," Mr McKenzie said.
Mayor Richard Kempthorne, sitting councillors and aspirants also said last night that the council would have to revise its development plans to answer community concerns about its burgeoning debt.
"That $311 million that we talk about is if we did all the projects. What we're going to have to do to keep affordable rates and bring down our use of debt is to significantly spread out the infrastructure projects that we're going to be doing," Mr Kempthorne said.
But a just-awarded Standard and Poors AA- credit rating after an extensive evaluation process would help to reduce the council's interest rates, he said.
The two issues dominating the Tasman election campaign, debt and the Lee Valley Dam, were again prominent at the meeting, held in the Richmond Town Hall.
About 45 Grey Power members and one thirty-something couple heard four of the five mayoral candidates and the eight people competing for the four Richmond Ward seats answer a series of questions.
Mr Kempthorne, going for a third term, was joined by challengers Gary Watson, Maxwell Clark and Kit Maling, a sitting councillor who is standing only for the mayoralty. The fifth mayoral candidate, Steve Richards, sent an apology.
The two Lakes-Murchison ward candidates, councillor Stuart Bryant and his opponent Susan Wilson, were invited but declined.
Two councillors are standing for re-election, Judene Edgar and Zane Mirfin. They and the other six - former councillors Gordon Currie and Michael Higgins back for another go, and newcomers Mark Greening, John Cumpstone, Janine Pugh and former Nelson city councillor Alan Turley - were tightly controlled by Grey Power marshals who aimed to keep the meeting at two hours and only let it over-run by 15 minutes.
In a well-mannered and good-natured meeting, the only clash was between Mr Clark, who is alone among mayoral candidates in his firm opposition to the Lee Valley Dam, and Mr Maling, who as chairman of the Waimea East Irrigation Company has stood back from council discussions on the dam project.
Clearly irritated by Mr Clark's claims about the cost of the dam and his contention that it isn't necessary, Mr Maling was granted a little extra time to respond.
Mr Clark had said that the dam would add $60 million to the council's debt and put up the rates, though there was "no water shortage".
Mr Maling said the dam's design was only 80 per cent complete and the costing wasn't known, but it was essential to secure a water supply for the Waimea Plains, where just one business had 200 workers.
"We have to work out a way to make it affordable for everybody, and that's where the hard work is going to come in the next year."
Some other quotes:
"Good financial management is the key to running this council. Nothing else." - Gary Watson.
"I will ensure council provides core services to its residents and ratepayers at an affordable cost." - Richard Kempthorne.
"Council staff since 2009 has gone up 30 per cent. We can't keep doing that." - Kit Maling.
"This council is out of control. The debts are out of control." - Maxwell Clark.
"As a tourism operator I see the tough times coming. We're going to have to really knuckle down and find some solutions." - Zane Mirfin.
Other issues visited included council communications with ratepayers (pretty good but could be better was the predominant view), high-density housing (maybe, but not too high-density), recreational facilities (good and worth keeping), support for existing retailers with a Warehouse and a K-Mart coming to Richmond (the market will find its own answers) rates relief for pensioners (should be more of it) and the fairness of uniform annual general charges (split decision).
The only spontaneous applause came when Mr Maling referred to his attempts to broker a deal between the owners and leaseholders of the Waimea Village, announced on Monday, to end a long-running and bitter dispute over monthly payments.
Grey Power member Marjorie Wood listened attentively to the whole meeting, making notes.
What did she think of it?
Did it change your views on any of the candidates?
"Yes, it did."
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