[RE. Mike Ramsay’s How about bed tax and GST?column, in last week’s Mountain Scene]
As mayor of the fastest-growing district in the country, I don’t have to go far to engage in conversations about the challenge of effectively managing growth.
And frequently that conversation turns to how we fund the infrastructure needed to support increased resident and visitor numbers. More importantly, who funds it?
So it was encouraging to read support from Mike Ramsay in his recent column How about bed tax and GST? and his observations of what is a widely-adopted model globally. I am well aware that there are many differing perspectives on this concept and look forward to an informed discussion once we have a mandate from central government.
I must take this opportunity to strongly counter Mr Ramsay’s assertion that this council was “asleep at the funding wheel”. On the contrary we have very much had our foot on the pedal, making our voices heard loud and clear in Wellington. And they are starting to listen.
It’s easy to look at high-profile central government initiatives such as the Provincial Growth Fund and wonder where Queenstown Lakes District sits in the queue for investment.
But our district is unique in many ways that means it doesn’t fit the bill for schemes such as this. In many ways we are fortunate that we don’t have high levels of welfare dependency, unemployment or poor economic performance. In fact we enjoy the exact opposite and the flip side is that we don’t always neatly fit within the criteria for a fund like this.
Instead we have had to work extremely hard to demonstrate our willingness to meet the investment shortfall, and lobby central government.
In the case of the former, we have realised council assets such as the Lakeview and Commonage sites, secured excellent borrowing rates, increased rates to residents and proposed targeted rates to fund big developments such as the Queenstown Town Centre Masterplan.
To the second point, this council has worked tirelessly to ensure the relevant ministers in Wellington are very aware of the issues the district faces.
The July announcement from Minister Twyford confirmed loan applications to the Housing Infrastructure Fund had been approved for developments in Kingston ($36 million) and Quail Rise ($16m).
Earlier this year, we also presented a business case, Sustaining Tourism Growth in Queenstown, to central government detailing the challenges we face and exploring options for addressing them.
The council has entered into discussions about how some of this might be met by the Provincial Growth Fund, but that may only address some of the much bigger picture and we continue to explore this and other appropriate options.
We anticipate that we will start to see the fruits of this endeavour appearing soon.
Our efforts have been commended by Minister Twyford, and we continue to engage with him and other ministers about funding opportunities for housing infrastructure, freedom camping solutions, and on many other related issues.
This council has its hands firmly on the wheel and its eyes fixed on the exciting challenge ahead.