Mayor signals big changes

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New Queenstown mayor Vanessa van Uden has eased through a major pro­­gramme of change without fanfare this week. 

If even only half the planned initiatives take shape, City Hall is in for a shakeup. 

Van Uden spoke to Mountain Scene ahead of a recent full council meeting, elaborating on key points from an agenda report headed “council priorities” and stressing consensus among her colleagues.

More diversified revenue base 

Van Uden: “We saw very clearly in the election campaign that the com­munity was looking for other [funding sources] than debt and rates.” 

Along with the current rates review, she says, the council must first communicate how differential rating works – “Because accommodation and commercial ratepayers are already paying a big whack.” 

Van Uden then wants to ask the community what other options should be considered. 

If there’s support for a bed tax or local sales tax, she says she’ll go into bat with central Government.

Strategic review of landholdings 

Yes, the mayor says, if council dirt is sitting there doing nothing, it may be sold, leased or put into some kind of public-private partnership. 

First things first though, she says – there has to be a tally-up of what land the council actually owns.

Shared services 

Van Uden talks of centralising services across council companies such as Lakes Leisure, Lakes Environmental and Queenstown Airport Corporation. 

“In a lot of our [companies], we have communications departments, human resources or whatever – it’s looking at whether we could actually centralise those.” 

The mayor’s also keen on pooling resources with other local bodies, like the existing library service shared with Central Otago District Council. 

The agenda report also refers to “aligning the activities” of council companies. 

Is this a result of Queenstown Airport Corporation’s show of independence last year in flogging off 24.9 per cent of its shares? 

Van Uden responds diplomatically: “It’s about us all travelling in the same direction, rather than the right hand not necessarily knowing what the left hand’s doing.”

Complete review of office accommodation 

Staff will be housed “in the most logical and cost-effective place”, the mayor says, so the council may look at leasing another building. 

“We won’t have a council-funded new building on my watch.”