Rates to pay for city's stadium

JARED SMITH
Last updated 05:00 08/05/2012

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Check your pockets Taranaki ratepayers – you're buying a stadium.

The Taranaki Regional Council is to go ahead with its plan to assume ownership of Yarrow Stadium after hearing public submissions on the long-term plan for 2012-2022 in Stratford yesterday. Councillors made their decision in an hour following the hearing where opposition came from both the Stratford and South Taranaki mayors, who felt their ratepayers should not continue forking out for a New Plymouth asset.

The decision followed months of controversy after it was revealed ratepayers would be required to contribute to the maintenance of the stadium even after the loan to finance its construction is paid off next month.

However, the news was sweetened by the announcement that instead of a projected 3 per cent increase for the regional council, there will be a zero rate rise for the coming year. That is because of higher-than-expected returns from Port Taranaki, which is owned by the regional council.

While noting South Taranaki and Stratford's objections to the stadium rate, regional council chief executive Basil Chamberlain said only a handful among the 50 submissions had that stance.

"I think the public `get it'. This is a regional amenity," he said.

Following the meeting, regional council chairman David MacLeod said the money split – 78 per cent North Taranaki, 17 per cent South and 5 per cent Stratford – was fair.

He said the New Plymouth District Council would still pay all the stadium's operational costs.

"Rates money from the regional council will go into a depreciation fund to protect the future of this regional asset."

The regional council will make an offer to the dissenting district councils for a regional review of which facilities are considered "recreational assets".

Both South Taranaki Mayor Ross Dunlop and Stratford Mayor Neil Volzke pointed out that when the 10-year loan for the stadium was voted on there was no suggestion payments would continue afterwards.

They also objected to the "ad hoc" way the TSB Superscreen, owned by Sport Taranaki, was added to the mix.

"We're questioning what is it that makes a regional facility, then we see what is transparent," Mr Volzke said.

His chief executive, Sue Davidson, offered up a counter proposal for taking over the stadium. "It doesn't all have to be targeted rates. It could be fundraising, it could be sponsorship, it could be loans with a multi-generational spread." Mr Dunlop also questioned the rationale. "Any expenditure of that amount deserves to be questioned. That amount for our council would be looked at closely.

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"How do you decide what is a regional facility and what is not?" When asked for reactions last night to the regional council's decision, Mr Volzke said he wanted to read the decision in its entirety before commenting.

Mr Dunlop said he was "quite surprised" the regional council was sticking with taking $11 from each person in his district.

"I thought they may have compromised; that they may have reduced the amount they were going to take from the ratepayers of South Taranaki.

"I would have thought they may have looked at reducing the amount that they need for the stadium and maybe looked at redirecting some of that into some of the other options as far as regional facilities go." Mr Dunlop did welcome the chance to discuss with the regional council what would be considered "regional assets" in future.

The regional council figures suggest that for the stadium New Plymouth ratepayers will pay about $693,000 a year, South Taranaki $137,000 and Stratford $46,000.

- Taranaki

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