Troubled waters for council spending

Last updated 13:00 25/06/2012

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OPINION: Motueka is emerging as a new frontline in a battle over Tasman District Council spending.

One of the council's main debt reduction decisions last month was to cap the upgrading of Motueka River stopbanks at $5 million; slashed from the $16.32m budget originally included in its long term plan for the next 10 years.

That prompted an unusual public reaction from the Wakatu Incorporation which took out a full page advertisement in the Motueka-Golden Bay News last week to call the council to task.

The powerful Maori business group with widespread property and commercial interests in the Motueka area argues the council is threatening the town's future by deferring the rebuilding of the inadequate, 57-year-old stopbanks.

With recent flooding in the region still fresh, and extreme weather events more common, Wakatu wants an urgent meeting between the council and the Motueka community to discuss the stopbank decision it says "creates unacceptable risks for everyone who is part of the Motueka community".

Wakatu says the stopbanks are critical infrastructure. In contrast it says the proposed $38.2m coastal Tasman pipeline to supply water to Mapua is not needed now, and will service a smaller, mainly residential community.

The argument reflects the wider challenges faced by the Tasman council as it grapples with a large and diverse region with a rapidly growing population, requiring expensive infrastructure upgrades.

Damage from the December deluge put another dent in the council budget and local government reforms bring the promise of tighter controls on council debt levels.

Against that backdrop, councillors at last month's long term plan meeting took the pruners to the stopbank work, shelved a $1.65m upgrade of part of Kaiteriteri Rd, and cut other projects.

The juggling also saw councillors wanting to quit the region's tourism marketing body before, wisely, having a rethink. It may be in the doldrums now, but tourism remains one of the area's most valuable assets.

The argument for the stopbank cap was put forward by councillor Kit Maling who said modelling showed failure of the river's stopbanks would see the town flooded to a depth of 25cm.

That may not threaten life, but it would damage livelihoods.

The argument for the water pipeline is that it will improve water quality and help attract new investment and development in the coastal area.

Tasman deputy mayor Tim King says the issue highlights the difficulties the council faces balancing debt reduction and "keeping in all the projects people want completed".

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The council obviously can't complete them all, but needs some better arguments to appease Wakatu and the Motueka community.

But perhaps that community may also reflect on its overwhelming rejection of amalgamation with Nelson City.

A much bigger rating base may have improved the chances of such infrastructure projects proceeding more quickly.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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