OPINION: Environment Southland is nicely focused. It's Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt whose vision is blurry.
Mr Shadbolt has called on the regional council to widen its focus and become more involved in community projects such as rebuilding stadiums.
The thrust of his argument is that Environment Southland is blinkered in its concentration on environmental matters.
He points out, as he is entitled to, that under the Local Government Act regional councils are also required to act in the interests of the social, cultural and economic wellbeing of the community.
Seriously though, are we being asked to accept that the council is failing in this duty by faffing around with such culturally and economically inconsequential matters as dealing with the impacts of intensified land use; enabling the long-term use of resources by communities, industry and individuals; and dealing with emergency management and preparedness?
Let's not forget that Environment Southland asked in its (admirably clear) long-term planning document whether it should put money towards Stadium Southland.
The stadium trust had stuck its hand out for $680,000 to help make the rebuilt stadium a safe haven for use in civil defence emergencies. It wasn't a bad try, but the reaction from submitters to the plan was an emphatic no.
So Mr Shadbolt is essentially asking the council to go against a clear steer from its community.
And that's another thing. People who pay Environment Southland rates also pay either Invercargill city or Southland or Gore district council rates.
They shouldn't pay from two local government directions for the same structure.
Granted, other regional councils see it differently. Otago Regional Council has supported Dunedin's Forsyth Barr stadium. If you have a spare hour or two, try airily asking a few random Otago regional ratepayers how they feel about that.
We're guessing it hasn't entirely escaped Mr Shadbolt's notice that Environment Southland doesn't get all its money from rates.
It also receives a nice dividend from its South Port shareholding. Why not divert some of that?
Here's why. Environment Southland doesn't keep those port dividends lying around as a nest egg. That money's already used to reduce the amount that it suctions out of every property in the province through its own general rate. Right now, that rate would be about one third higher without this happening.
So the share dividend, through this route, already benefits every property owner in the region. Leave it alone.
We find ourselves wishing the stadium trust well, however, in its appeal to Prime Minister John Key for Government support.
Yes, ratepayers are also taxpayers, so you could argue that would be another case of the same people paying for the same structure from yet another direction.
But the Government has legitimate pockets into which to dip for a project such as this, and rather more of a mandate to do so. Environment Southland, not so much.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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