Editorial: 'Must-haves' v 'nice-to-haves'

Last updated 05:00 21/11/2012

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OPINION: It is the principle that counts. To many, a 2 per cent pay rise may not mean a lot, except when it's the chief executive of the New Plymouth District Council, who is already on $340,000-plus a year.

In that context it assumes far greater significance.

Many ratepayers would have hoped that at a time of ever-increasing rate rises and a self-declared search for savings in its operations, the council may have shown voted for a zero increase.

It's the same principle with the New Plymouth District Council's trip to Japan to visit sister city Mishima this week.

Not surprisingly Mayor Harry Duynhoven has defended the cost as a worthwhile investment, saying the trip would reap benefits not obvious to the ratepayer or business owner until they get involved.

He pointed to the presence of Withers Coachlines' Blair Withers, who is paying his own expenses, on the delegation, as an example. It would give him a chance to meet with potential business partners, the mayor said. Whether any gains were made as a result of the trip would depend on good fortune, he added.

"If you don't go with goodwill and don't engage, there's no chance of future business prospects. I hope it will be very fruitful."

The trip is also an opportunity to mark the 20-year sister-city relationship with New Plymouth. While accepting that, and the fact that the council is paying for a small delegation of four people, it was inevitable questions would be asked about the value of the relationship.

The cost may be a modest $12,000 to $16,000, but again, it is the principle that counts.

At a time when many are struggling to meet rate demands and the council's own Perpetual Investment Fund is under-performing to the extent that surplus council funds are to be diverted to it, the need for prudence is paramount.

The most common request of councillors from the district's residents is to cut out the "nice-to-haves" and stick to the "must-haves".

There is enormous mistrust swirling around the Len Lye Centre funding and ongoing costs, and many will argue turning down the trip would have been seen as an acknowledgement of some of those concerns.

The council could also have said the often-cited economic benefits that hopefully could flow from the relationship with Mishima and Chinese city Kunming could be more appropriately handled by a delegation from the Taranaki Chamber of Commerce, with a letter of introduction and endorsement from the mayoral office.

Interestingly, the chamber's chairman Grant McQuoid said this week he believed the council should be sending business people.

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Mishima is a major industrial centre with a population of about 112,000 and it is potentially fertile ground for networking an developing business.

The challenge for the delegation going there will be to demonstrate some tangible results, despite the fact that much of the emphasis on visits like this is focussed on opening doors and doing groundwork.

Otherwise, it might be argued the money could have gone towards a loo at Waitara cemetery. We just thought we'd say it before councillor Sherril George.

- Taranaki Daily News

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