Voters have given New Plymouth's new mayor Andrew Judd a remarkably different council from the one he sat on for the last six years. Matt Rilkoff asks what it might mean.
Looking serious and confident in a new pin-stripe suit, New Plymouth's notoriously principled new Mayor Andrew Judd easily admits people are scared.
"I know that," he says in the second floor Civic Centre office he moved into a day after grabbing the mayoralty with last week's landslide victory over incumbent Harry Duynhoven.
It wasn't just a victory for Judd. It was also a victory for the conservatives, with voters bringing in one of the most financially cautious, sceptical and potentially ego-packed councils the district has seen.
The result is a triumph of common sense for those who see a district mired in debt and vanity spending. To others it is a backward step for a community which was striding confidently towards a bright future.
"I want to reassure the community I am not about at all, throwing the baby out with the bathwater," Mr Judd says.
"This is nothing to do with ripping up, austerity and harsh stuff. This is about protecting what we have got."
That protection is far easier to say than do. If this council sticks to the voter-provided mandate to keep rates increases in line with or below inflation, eventually some things will not be able to be protected. Some things will be cut. Some "wants" will have to go.
And that is where the fear begins. Will that mean selling park land, reducing public toilets, rubbish bins, less maintenance on footpaths or shutting down every second street light. Or will it mean structural change that brings a far cheaper, more streamlined and efficient council.
The challenge, says Len Houwers, perhaps the single biggest instigator of the change in council's tenor, is finding out what people want and don't want.
"I think the key thing is to understand what the constraints are, it's not to stop spending."
Like the mayor, Mr Houwers understands the huge change has led to anxiety the district will lose such iconic events as the Summer Scene and On Stage events, Womad and the Festival of Lights.
"I think these are very successful for this community and I think it's appropriate council looks to support it," he says.
"It's a question of priorities within council budget and you would have to look very carefully before you let them go."
There is no doubt letting them go would save money, but it would probably also cost councillors their seats. They may also find their seats getting a little warm in 2015, when a new rubbish collection system will be introduced.
With one of the cheapest collection systems now, any change is likely to add at least $100 to a rates bill, a 5 per cent increase for most people, even before inflation.
Then there is the walkway extension, the Len Lye Centre, the polarising TSB Stadium upgrade proposal and the ongoing grind of keeping ratepayers with a dizzying variety of values satisfied.
It may be the new crop find that once inside the council chambers they can't quite achieve what looked so possible from the outside.
If that is the case they should not expect any sympathy from voters in 2016.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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