2012 NRA Long Term Plan Submission
Submitted by Nelson Residents Association - May 15, 2012
NELSON CITY COUNCIL LONG TERM COUNCIL PLAN 2012-2022
The 2012-2013 Annual Plan works from a false premise of achieving a programme of work balanced with affordability without establishing what “affordability” means. The council obviously does not consider that the proposed annual rate of increase amounting to almost SIX PER CENT in the general and water rates plus various extra uniform general charges levied on property owners is unaffordable.
This is totally wrong in the present economic recession when all sections of society are under extreme financial stress from the CBD proprietor viewing his diminished turnover to the beneficiary who is forced to patronise the soup kitchen.
The Nelson City Council seems equally unaware of what is needed to carry out its operations within a properly controlled budget. There is need for a radical change in the Council's Finance executive.
For example: There have been too many instances in recent years when regional projects being developed in association with Tasman District and private organisation, have been entered into on the basis of majority shares being provided by the two councils subject to a specified contribution by the private organisation. However the contribution of the private organisation has failed to be forthcoming and the unpaid share has been left to the unfortunate Nelson Ratepayer to pick up the tab!
This must not continue. Such private organisations, councillors and the council officers must be made to realise that the arrangements they are entering into is in the nature of binding legal contracts whose conditions must be met in all particulars, especially in the case of the cash settlement. Too many of these agreements seem to have been entered into without the private parties having any serious intention of ever completing their side of the deal. The ratepayers can afford it, can't they?
In the present plan: the Suter Art Gallery is listed for a major upgrade with a proposed “INVESTMENT of $ 6.5 Million”. Sanity must be questioned if Councillors think that this will be an investment!
The Suter Art Gallery which is a city cultural asset thanks to the benefaction of Bishop Suter's widow and family, is not an investment for the city since there has never been any financial return to the city and neither is there any likelihood of such at any future time.
The Bishop Suter Art Gallery Board should be left with the total responsibility for raising the necessary funding from the public. Private philanthropists should be sought but they will not volunteer if the council is using rates money!
A similar situation applies in the case of the Theatre Royal, which despite Councillor Rainey's enthusiastic urgings, has now been revealed after a year of operations as a typical MONEY SINK as evidenced by the failure of one of the most active amateur theatrical companies in the neighbourhood.The fact is that since the introduction of the second television channel to Nelson in the 1970s, theatre patronage has continued to decline at an increasing rate which has accelerated with the arrival of Sky television. When such a wide spectrum of entertainment is available in the living-room, the comfort of the lay-ze-boy and the knowledge that one has no need to find a car-park on a cold winter's night, are over-whelming!
The Theatre Royal Trust members, led by the former mayor, must be required to meet their financial obligations to the community and repay their loan when they can! The proposal on page 147, to expend $6.59M on acquistion must be resisted strongly.
The historic Nelson School of Music building falls in a somewhat different case to the Suter and the Theatre Royal. As one of the many benefactions of Thomas Cawthron to Nelson City, this renowned educational institution has produced many musicians who have gone on to be a credit to Nelson elsewhere in the world, as well as being a fine little concert hall befitting a town of Nelson's size. With a relatively small input of public funding from the city apart from when it was given a new roof some years ago, the building now deserves to be kept weathertight and sound. Since the School of Music has survived the Murchison and Inangahua earthquakes during the last century, the urgency of earthquake strengthening may not be great although reality may prove otherwise.
The Long Term Plan document speaks of the aims of a strong economy from which we all benefit. Practically all the strength of the diversified economy claimed in the document is derived from the greater Nelson region. Talk of high quality employment, education and training opportunities, tends within a few days to trigger announcements of closures of long-established businesses because of present economic conditions. Council employs weell-known economic pundits to tell them what they want to hear and then embarks on projects which private entrepreneurs would not touch with a barge-pole. In the meantime they proceed to “invest” in community facilities which are unlikely to pay cash dividends and will require many more smoothing loans to put off the debts of today until the day after tomorrow. This at the expense of rate-payers who are expected to accept increased rates and charges every year, when they themselves may be on some form of fixed income with no choice of borrowing to finance the necessities which the additional rates are depriving them of!
“Our Leaders are proactive, innovative, and inclusive”, oh yeah!
In 2010-2011, the inclusivity bit didn't apply to consultation on Montgomery Square or the Gambling By-law. It was just the same when the council chose to introduce the undemocratic idea of creating a maori ward after one senior member of council was airborne to Japan and was not able to counsel his colleagues on this politically correct but divisive issue. Their innovation in granting a generous bonus and additional leave to its already excessively well-paid servant was, to say the least, interesting, if ill-judged. Perhaps this year they will ensure that Mr Marshall's replacement has the necessary legal qualifications which used to be the sine qua non for the appointment of a town clerk. This may reduce the incidence of litigation cases in future!
THE MAORI WARD
This issue will be decided by the poll of ratepayers but the matter of the original vote taken by council unilaterally without consultation with the citizens suggests that councillors were subjected to strong pressure from a vocal and persuasive lobby group of radicals using arguments of a politically correct nature to achieve a situation which militates against the founding principles of democratic representation of the people.
As the council has promoted the pro-vote in “Live Nelson” , there has been an unseemly partiality introduced into the issue by the authors of the advertisement. This was absolutely disgraceful behaviour and reflects badly on all connected with it. We have seen comments in various publications which suggests that council intends to conduct a major review of the voting system following the poll, regardless of the outcome. It is hoped that citizens are consulted before changes are made to the system.
We have recently seen former attorneys-general convicted for publishing false prospectuses and the City Council's draft annual plan is a similar document designed to engender trust on the part of the reader. Like most company prospectuses, the devil is in the small print. We are concerned that the Ridgeways Joint Venture still represents a major unrealised investment after a considerable number of years. On one page readers are informed that there were only two sales in 2011 (vol.2, page 94) with a prediction that the final 19 sections were not expected to be sold before March 2017, while on page 48 the Venture is described as “nearing conclusion”. We would concur with the city's prediction of March 2017 as a likely deadline but with almost 10% of the original stock of sections still unsold, the “nearing conclusion” bit is stretching the spin too much as usual.
COUNCIL CONTROLLED ORGANISATIONS
We note that the Port Company has made a prudent move in recognition of present economic conditions of reducing its target of debt to equity ratio from 66.67% to 45%
The document lacks information on which the performance of the Nelson Regional Economic Agency can be measured. The reader is informed that additional funding of $90,000 is proposed for allocation by NCC but additional to what??
WHY RATES & CHARGES INCREASES SHOULD BE ZERO !
Council makes numerous references to sustainability and affordability but it has consistently over the past decade, failed to meet that same standard of affordability for the funders of the annual budgets. In fact the City has the unenviable record of being the most highly rated in the league table of 187 local authorities in the country. At the present time of economic stringency it is time that the City Council members consider the well-being of those who elected them into their comfortably paid positions and take the measures necessary to shed the crown of “Champion Rating Authority”.
From the point of sustainability to residential ratepayers, for too many years the council has adopted a role which can never have been envisaged by the draughtsmen of the Local Government Act 2002, that is: the role of public entertainers and entrepreneurs providing low cost amusements for visiting summer tourists. This must stop!
Council should leave such activities to the professionals who can cope with the gamble. The only financial benefits deriving from tourism go to the business sector but the swingeing loadings placed on commercial property rates take care of excess profit left behind by visitors!
Recent years have seen council employee positions increasing at an alarming rate. The chief executive 's salary is no doubt related to the number of employees for whom he is responsible. If so, there is no safeguard against the old public service custom of empire-building!
Citizens have observed more effort and gloss being expended on publicity of city activities in Live Nelson, which regrettably arrives in most letterboxes to finish up in the recycling with all the other junkmail. The failed amalgamation proposal could have seen the new authority producing a more legible newsletter as that published by Tasman District. We would suggest that someone starts evaluating surplus positions the publicity department which produced the more than 300 pages of Volumes 1 and 2 of the Statement of Proposal, padded with fancy artwork from beginning to end. Such treatment is more suitable for an auctioneer's catalogue than for an annual budget statement which by its very nature is ephemeral just like the maybug which appears for a day and having mated, dies!
Incidentally, the “Value for Money ($7)” feature included in the summary householder version of the document tended to go down like the proverbial lead balloon. Most ratepayers struggling on limited incomes need to think twice during their weekly shopping trips before they squander seven bucks on a burger or a latte.
Serious contributions to cutting non-essential costs can be made by reviewing projects such as the Rutherford Park Upgrade. It is noted that some alterations have been made to the time-table but certain of the features of the plan produced by the consultants should certainly be questioned for wisdom and practicality. The insanity of the proposal to incorporated the Moller Fountain and the median strip of State Highway Six into the Park should not have received a moment's consideration from council before rejecting the idea of closing a perfectly safe section of dual carriage-way and leaving busy traffic to use a single two lane road passing immediately in front of a school and kindergarten complex. There can be no justification for prettification of the park at the expense of loss of a significant amount of car-parking at the Nelson venue with the greatest audience capacity.
Since the December flood, the long overdue completion of the Trafalgar Centre upgrade regrettably needs to be delayed until the more pressing clean-up operations have been completed so that displaced residents can soon return to a more normal living situation. However the Association would encourage speedy conclusion of the North End alterations so that the centre can achieve its full potential as the multi-purpose venue which the original architects intended. After that perhaps the loose talk of a civic conference centre being built in the neighbourhood will be put to rest and private enterprise left to provide one if they think it viable!
In the interests of improved conditions for all concerned, we would urge Council to make the strongest representations to the government in association with its colleagues in Local Government New Zealand for early action to review and amend the significant statutes which are currently proving their failure to meet popular needs in the present changing circumstances.
After a decade, the Local Government Act needs a number of clauses to be brought back to normality after the introduction by the then Labour administration of various “politically correct” issues which imposed requirements for councils to provide for some desirable social community services but without making any provision for the funding of them.The resultant burden placed on ratepayers in all parts of New Zealand is now gving rise to vociferous citizen protest.
It is essential that the proper status of the elected representatives of the people is restored vis-a-vis the local authority bureaucracy. The present situation in which councillors seem intimidated by the paid staff and decline to respond to electors' problems, raises the question of why the elected representatives should be needed at all. But democracy has then failed!
The mill-stone of the Resource Management Act has been highlighted in Christchurch by the earthquake and the December floods in the Nelson region have had the same effect locally. Simplification and streamlining of the legislation must be accompanied by introduction of a prescriptive statute which creates conditions where processes and administration costs are established to a uniform national standard, operating from Cape Reinga to Bluff, (not to mention the overseas territories).
FINALLY, A MESSAGE TO COUNCILLORS:
Due to the crushing demands from Nelson City Council on the private sector, the community is rapidly reaching the point of financial meltdown.
To avoid major damage, you must immediately regain control and reject the powerful influences that demand more and more expenditure outside of core local government business. Failure to act will be an abrogation of your responsibilities. You were elected as individuals to represent the people, not to become lackeys of the executive of local government.
We had high hopes. You have let us down.
You have to change the culture and take control. DO IT!.
Secretary/Treasurer, Nelson Residents' Association Incorporated