Monday, 23 April 2007

Opinion feature: Democracy in Action

We've heard a lot about that word "consultation" in this area and many
of us have become very cynical about the meaning of this word. The
Dunedin City Council has just been consulting its citizens about its
annual plan and of course the proposed stadium. Advertising of the
annual plan meetings was very poor and so not many people found out
there was a meeting in Waitati on Wednesday 11 April (just after
Easter). Property owners will have received a survey to ask them their
views on the proposed stadium, unfortunately people who rent their
home appear to be considered second class citizens and their opinions
on this matter have not been sort. Everyone is welcome to make a
submission to the Council in relation to the annual plan, these were
due in by 2 May. I am hoping a lot of people have taken the time to do
this.

The Council is proposing a huge spending spree in the next few years,
this includes some major infrastructure items, which they have already
started (Tahuna sewage disposal pipe) or in the case of the Northern
Water Scheme, are about to start. There is also a very long list of
what I would call optional extras. Most of these are really big budget
items: renovations and a major addition to the Town Hall, completion
of the Chinese Garden, improved visitor and storage facilities for the
Settlers Museum, redevelopment of an area of the harbour foreshore, a
new library for South Dunedin and better access and facilities for the
central library, and the most expensive item, the new Stadium.
Regardless of the merits of these individual projects and I'm sure
some of them will be wonderful assets for our city I personally have
an enormous concern that we just can't afford to fund all of them in
the next few years. It is highly likely that there will be unforeseen
cost over-runs and budget blowouts and that the council will struggle
to cope with increasing levels of debt.

We cannot be sure of the economic future of New Zealand and more
particularly Dunedin. If in the near future the Dunedin City Council
has a lower than predicted rates intake and its various investments
are producing declining dividends the council will have to increase
rates and charges to cover its debt repayment. This may include
charging for some services, which were previously free such as
admission to the Art Gallery, the Museum and the Botanic Garden or
even charging for Library books. Cost cutting could lead to the
closure of community libraries and swimming pools. There may be less
funding available to spend on road repairs, parks and reserves and
public facilities. There is a proposal to introduce user pays for
water, by metering each household, this may result in many families
facing a large monthly water bill. There is also a plan for a new
regional landfill, the cost of building this is likely to lead to
extremely high costs for waste disposal. The predicted rates rises
associated with the stadium and the other council projects are going
to place financial stress on many families. I think many citizens will
be angry about the long-term financial outcome for Dunedin. Most of
the Councillors have been persuaded by the alleged benefits to the
city of the stadium but few of them have an understanding of the
long-term ramifications of the resulting level of debt. A more
considered and cautious approach to the viability and timing of these
costly major projects would have been wise.

by Geraldine Tait


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