Juggling to stem rate rise

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 13/02/2013
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TARANAKI DAILY NEWS
Slash: Budget for the Festival of Lights reduced by $45,000 to $90,000

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A six-month review of New Plymouth District Council operations has found $1.4 million in savings that could reduce this year's rates increase to 4.6 per cent.

That is 2 per cent less than the 6.6 per cent originally forecast and would mean the average rates bill would increase by about $40.

To do this council has found $603,000 worth of savings in its own internal overheads and $300,000 in electricity use that it will make as a matter of course.

It is also proposing $200,000 be cut from the $850,000 major events fund which has previously been used to help bring such acts as Fleetwood Mac and Elton John to New Plymouth.

Looking ahead a few years the review also recommends the controversial $28m TSB stadium and the much-needed $13.6m Todd Energy Aquatic Centre upgrades be reconsidered during the 2015-2025 long term plan process.

With an election on the way it is unlikely councillors will oppose such a proposal to effectively dodge a decision on such polarising capital expenditure.

In what rates campaigner Len Houwers has described as "fringe" savings Puke Ariki could cut back its opening hours to save $48,000; and free concerts at Pukekura Park during the TSB Festival of Lights could be cut back to find savings of $45,000.

Other ideas include reducing the number of streetside rubbish bins from 300 to 150 over the next three years, reducing street cleaning in New Plymouth CBD from seven days to four and cleaning the district's toilets less.

Also up for debate will be council's involvement in providing housing for the elderly, of which it currently operates 145 units.

"We are in a position now where we have got a package of proposals which the council will debate, consider and decide - and then of course it will go out to the public," Mayor Harry Duynhoven said.

Despite the review being the most "thorough" carried out at the council for many years he did not think it would go far enough for some. "There are some people that don't want the facts. If I could walk on water in some cases it would be ‘that bloody Duynhoven didn't swim'," the mayor said.

A holidaying Mr Houwers dismissed the review as "structurally flawed" from the beginning as council had not determined what the community could afford to pay into the future.

"It keeps sacred cows like free entry to Govett Brewster Art Gallery intact. It continues with non-core activities like sister city.

"The electricity saving is simply a matter of softer prices in the market.

"Basically it has been a fiddling at the margins that fails to address the structural issues of rising debt and fails to deal with local government scope creep outside non core areas," he said.

At the same time as cutting costs the council is also proposing to slash income from its Perpetual Investment Fund to just $10.7m this year from the $17.1m it had signalled it wanted. For the last nine years the fund has paid the council around $20m annually but the $227m fund is now worth $100m less in real value than when established from the sale of council's Powerco shares in 2004.

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Chief executive Barbara McKerrow said it had been a major challenge to balance the requirement that the fund be able to support the community in the long term and shield the impact reduced payouts would have on ratepayers.

The savings being proposed will have only a minor impact on levels of services Mrs McKerrow said and further savings would be identified in future.

Council will debate the service review recommendations while finalising the preliminary draft annual plan next week. Public consultation on the plan will run from March 20 until April 26.

- Taranaki Daily News

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