New billboard pinpoints daily cost of city's debt
A council critic continues drive to educate ratepayers, Aaron Leaman reports.
A Hamilton businessman's campaign to bring down the city council has spawned another billboard – with promises of more to come.
Council critic Ray Stark's latest billboard went up this week next to the busy city intersection of Mill St and Willoughby St.
It states Hamilton ratepayers are spending $72,400 a day on the city's debt and invites people to visit the "Concerned Citizen" website.
In May, Mr Stark drew councillors' ire when he launched his one-man campaign with two billboards and a website calling for a cleanout of the council. Mr Stark told the Waikato Times he expected his latest billboard to spark more lively debate. And more billboards were being planned for later in the year.
"I believe what I'm doing will polarise the community to a degree but what I really hope to do is empower people to get out there and vote," he said.
"What I'm trying to do is get people to think about what we're doing as a city because I'm convinced there is another way to do things."
Mr Stark, who is executive chairman and sole shareholder of interactive messaging company Talkingtech, declined to reveal how much his latest billboard cost, saying it was "insignificant". "To be honest I've tried to keep anonymous because this [campaign] is not about me; I'm doing this for my grandchildren. It is a big commitment and to put it in perspective I've recently decided not to buy a new car. If this all means I don't buy a new pair of jeans or a suit for a month or so, then it doesn't matter."
Mr Stark said many residents and politicians had still not grasped the extent of the city's debt and its possible ramifications. The city's debt is expected to increase 10 per cent to $440 million over the next 10 years.
"Each day the council has to spend $72,400 on debt before they can think of doing anything else. And at the moment we're in good times as far as interest rates go. If interest rates go up, there will be ramifications."
Hamilton City Council chief executive Barry Harris said Mr Stark's billboard figure was correct but it was not unusual for a city the size of Hamilton to have debt and interest payments at this level.
"The key however is ensuring this debt is carefully managed and used appropriately to spread the cost of infrastructure investment across current and future generations who benefit from these assets."
Mr Harris said decisions taken recently by the council around its 10-year plan showed the city was closely managing its debt, and the interest paid on it, with debt to be capped at about $440m.