The Tasman District Council is hiding around $35 million for the Lee Valley dam in an inappropriate accounting category, says a former British businessman who has studied the council's long-term plan.
But Mayor Richard Kempthorne says the council has nothing to hide around the controversial $42 million project.
Bruce Collings - who moved to Golden Bay a decade ago - says he ran a business of equivalent size to the TDC in Britain and is not persuaded by Mr Kempthorne's written response to his questions, posed at a candidates' meeting in Collingwood.
Nor is Golden Bay wastewater specialist Dick Lamb, who understood there would be answers in the council's Newsline publication but has since been told by Mr Kempthorne that "few would have understood the context".
Mr Kempthorne, seeking re-election for a third term, and mayoral candidate Kit Maling - a dam project supporter - were both involved in correspondence with the two residents following the meeting.
Mr Maling, who said in an email to Mr Collings that he couldn't take part in council deliberations on the dam because of his advocacy for it through the Waimea East Irrigation Company, said the money was put into the council's governance account "just as a holding place". He said the council "will only own 47 per cent" and asked for Mr Collings' views on "selling some assets to pay for the dam or a large part of it".
In his emails Mr Kempthorne confirmed that the increase in the governance account as identified by Mr Collings did relate to the proposed Lee Valley dam.
"The expenditure was included in that activity as a ‘placeholder' and also recognises that, at the time, the project was one the council was supporting but not leading - hence the reason the project is not in another activity, such as water, for example."
The figures he gave for the 2015-16 spending increase in governance attributed to the dam were $6.2m to be loan funded as the council share of an environmental flow grant, with interest of around $200,000 in 2015-16 and $400,000 a year thereafter, and loan repayments of $124,000 in 2015-16 and $248,000 a year onwards, funded by general rates.
Targeted rates from "consumptive water users" would be $3.26m a year, Mr Kempthorne wrote.
He said this would be reviewed as part of the 2015-25 long term plan.
"I expect that they will not stay as part of the governance budget, but will be reallocated into a different part of the LTP."
But Mr Collings, who has a degree in business studies and headed a division of multinational Johnson & Johnson in the UK, said in a response to Mr Kempthorne on September 20 that he wasn't familiar with the term "placeholder" and neither was his dictionary.
"In plain English it seems to me that you have hidden a massive sum for the Lee Valley dam in an inappropriate accounting category."
He calculated that the inclusion of the dam funding had added $35 million to the budget in the long-term plan, "misleadingly classified as the cost of governance" and he believed it was premature for the council to budget dam costs when it was only supporting the project, not leading it.
Mr Collings told the Nelson Mail yesterday that the money had no right to be there with no explanation, "because governance is noted as the cost of providing us with democracy". After the correspondence he felt "fobbed off".
Mr Lamb told the Mail he had left the Collingwood meeting with an understanding that the answer, would be in Newsline, which he called the council's "propaganda sheet".
"I can see why he didn't want to put it in the Newsline - it would be the first time that there'd ever been any negative news in it in my experience - and of course it's election time," Mr Lamb said.
Mr Kempthorne said yesterday he was surprised that Mr Collings would suggest the council was hiding the money.
"I made it quite clear that it's not hidden. There was nowhere that was an appropriate place to include it but it was felt two years ago that there needed to be something somewhere."
There was no confirmed price or funding scheme for the dam so what was in the plan was indicative only.
"What we've tried to do is have something in the plan which gives an indication that there is an expectation that should it proceed there will be funding required, and that's as far as we can go at this stage."
Although Newsline had been suggested for answers, "it was decided that since the question had only been raised in Collingwood, we sent the information back to the people in Collingwood who were interested in it", he said.
No decision on the dam had been made and if it did go ahead, it would only be after extensive district-wide consultation, Mr Kempthorne said.
Mr Maling said his figure of 47 per cent council ownership was based on the "consumptive use" of water. Irrigators would consume something over 50 per cent, urban use was roughly 20 per cent, and then environmental good - "storage and the extra water we're going to leave in the river" - was 30 per cent.
Mr Maling said the suggestion that Newsline readers wouldn't understand the dam answers was "a load of crap".
"That's the sort of thing that people should know.
"People are saying ‘the dam's going to cost this much, and the council's going to have to pay for all of it'. Like hell they are."
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