'Ruby' spot on over key race issues - Shadbolt

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 26/01/2013

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Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt says it is time to debate the issues raised by "Ruby" - the caller to a mayoral talkback show later revealed as Environment Southland chairwoman Ali Timms.

Ms Timms called Cue TV's City Talk show in November, posing as a woman named Ruby, to quiz Mr Shadbolt over the just-announced Auckland to Bluff Yacht Race.

Ms Timms survived a confidence vote on her leadership of the regional council - prompted by the phone call - on Thursday.

Mr Shadbolt said he never regarded what she did as a stunt or a practical joke. "It was a very serious debate," he said. "I agree with the issues she raised. It really needs to be looked at."

The call was made shortly after the Government announced $440,000 in major events funding for the yacht race.

The council, which has already spent $15,000 on a feasibility study, is expected to make a financial contribution to the race, but the amount has not been decided.

The question of whether it was worth any kind of investment would probably be raised at the next council meeting.

"We will be looking at estimates, possible figures," he said.

In her phone call, Ms Timms questioned Mr Shadbolt over the benefit to Invercargill ratepayers of a council investment in the race, compared to a long-term infrastructure project such as the Around the Mountains cycle trail.

She asked how a fleet of yachts could be accommodated in Bluff Harbour and how much the council would have to invest to spruce up Bluff for the race.

Mr Shadbolt said the merits of spending on a single large event compared to a longer-term project needed to be debated. "My response . . . is going to be to do a mayoral poll. Explain to people what we're doing, asking [ratepayers] what they think." The poll would be advertised and a council talkback session would be devoted to it.

"[Ms Timms'] argument is it would be far better focusing on infrastructure, which could be used over a longer period of time, rather than having a yacht race over a single weekend . . . that needs to be debated in a robust manner."

Mr Shadbolt suggested that the long-term maintenance costs of a cycle trail could exceed the cost of helping set up the yacht race.

"Would it be better to invest, say, $400,000 in a Sydney-to-Hobart-type yacht race? Which will bring in the most benefits to Southland? It's going to be an exciting debate."

South Port had given the Government a mooring plan for the race before it committed funding. Final mooring decisions lay with the race organisers, he said.

Ms Timms said Environment Southland had told Mr Shadbolt 18 months ago it was not interested in funding the race.

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"The proper way to approach this is the same as when we were asked to contribute money to the [Stadium Southland rebuild] last year. We put it to our ratepayers . . . it didn't happen. I can't see this issue being any different."

She said she was not aware of the mooring plans until after she had made the "Ruby" phone call.

alex.fensome@stl.co.nz

- © Fairfax NZ News

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