Rats, rates and rationalisations

Editorial:Tim Shadbolt's attempts to persuade other Southland councils to help fund Rugby Park are likely to come up against the classic Invercargill dead-rat dynamic.

Haven't heard that story? You should; if only because parallels do keep popping up.

Back in 1890 dozens of people sickened and died in Sydney from what distressingly turned out to be the bubonic plague.

The news caused much anxiety in parts of Invercargill, given the the threat of diseased shipboard rats carrying the pestilence to our own shores and then decamping into the town's not-especially-sanitary streets, which still had plenty of open-sewer issues of their own.

So Invercargill Mayor J S Goldie announced a handsome bounty for a less-than-handsome campaign; one penny for every rat caught in the borough and delivered to the gasworks for destruction in the furnaces.

The thing was, his downtown borough was only one of several autonomous ones. The neighbouring Avenal Borough Council didn't want a bar of this profligate use of public money. Which led to strife at the gasworks, where staff were expected to be able to differentiate between a worthy town rat, and one of those valueless Avenal rats.

So that's the dynamic. One council insisting spending is necessary for the common good, another being disinclined to stump up.

Which brings us back to Rugby Park. Shadbolt's solution, proffered more optimistically than confidently, is that Southland and Gore district councils, or the regional council Environment Southland, could come to the party.

This would require the other councils accepting that Rugby Park is a regional asset, not merely a city one. And let's be honest, the makeup of your standard Rugby Park crowd strongly supports his argument.

More problematically still, it would also require the councils to determine that they should actually do something. And the plain fact is neither the ratepayers of Southland nor Gore district have been showing much inclination to contribute to the cause. Or if they have, it's certainly been on the quiet.

As for hitting up the regional council, Environment Southland, that's just wrongheaded. Every ratepayer of the Invercargill, Southland and Gore councils also contributes to ES, so if it were to pay up this would represent the same ratepayers paying twice.

The city would doubtless argue that not all ES funds comes from ratepayers. It does nicely out of South Port shares. But that money should continue to be spent where it now is.

Shifting some to Rugby Park would mean either reduced services elsewhere, or a commensurate increase in the regional rate.

Admittedly the Otago Regional Council takes a much different approach where stadium support is concerned. But ES has neither the mandate, nor the inclination, to be so expansive.

Until the day comes that ES's own consultative process produces the message that it should be more spendy-spendy on other projects dear to our provincial hearts, it should keep its present focus.

Shadbolt has readily acknowledged he doesn't, particularly, expect the other councils to embrace his idea. But he's entitled, at least, to raise the question of fairness.

Let's not forget, either, that the Shadbolt solution does put aside - which more than just a few people still assert we shouldn't - the option of the city council just bouncing the funding shortfall back to the Southland Outdoor Stadium Trust and Rugby Southland, with instructions to start managing the whole shebang better.

Footnote: Lest anyone be retrospectively concerned, we didn't get the plague.


The Southland Times