No Van U-Turn here

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Senior writer and longtime council watchdog Frank Marvin pats new Queenstown mayor Vanessa van Uden on the back

Voters who ticked the box for new mayor Vanessa van Uden can breathe easy over Queenstown Lakes District Council’s freshly-minted annual plan. 

For the first time in a decade, there’s more than a hint of belt-tightening at City Hall – just as Van Uden promised during her election campaign last October. 

Rates will rise in the July 2011-June 2012 fiscal year – but only by 2.74 per cent in total dollars across all 19,506 rateable properties in the Wakatipu and Wanaka, a puny increase compared with the bloated hikes implemented by former mayor Clive Geddes and ex-council boss Duncan Field. 

The new mayor – no doubt aided and abetted by Field’s successor Debra Lawson – has lopped 12.6 per cent off planned capital expenditure and will cut spiralling debt by $2 million. 

No, that isn’t a misprint. 

Council staff cuts also loom – 2.5 full-time positions have already gone “with a further review scheduled”, the annual plan says ominously. 

Submissions close on May 16.

Snapshot of Queenstown Lakes District Council’s proposed spending

Protesters wanted 

QLDC is almost begging submitters to moan like stink about proposed deep cuts to winter gritting and summer oiling of local roads. 

The council will use our moans and groans to lobby the New Zealand Transport Agency about “unsufficient funding”. 

As QLDC’s draft plan stands, only 19 main roads and bus routes will be gritted this winter – “most local roads will not be gritted at all.” 

More than $140,000 – almost half – will also be chopped from the Crown Range Road maintenance budget. The annual plan warns: “… reduced level of service could clearly impact on winter ski area activities and potentially create safety issues.” 

The high-altitude death-trap road between Wanaka and the Wakatipu will no longer be cleared of snow and gritted from 5am as in previous winters, the annual plan warns.

Giving … and taking 

Waste management charges are being transformed – the annual uniform charge is being cut while specific service charges go up. Residential properties will save $22 a year on their rates bill but will pay more for wheelie bin hire and blue bags.

Untouchable art 

Councillors must be fearful of getting offside with the great and good of the local art world – surprisingly in these cost-cutting times, the Aspiring Arts Trust quango’s annual $50,000 QLDC handout survives uncut in the new annual plan.

Bar set low 

QLDC’s plan aims for just a low 60 per cent satisfaction rating on parking facilities, despite the council admitting Queenstown carparking has been the major gripe of residents for five years – with visitors also reporting our parking is “behind national benchmarks”. 

Yet the council plans to extract an extra $60,000 annually from the district’s 3759 parking spaces and is budgeting a $2m profit – sorry, surplus – on its roading and parking account.

Freedom camping? 

Ratepayers will shell out $50,000 in the Wakatipu and Wanaka for “freedom camping information kiosks” to toilet-train travellers whose parents couldn’t be bothered doing so years ago.

Reconditioning required 

New community halls are out of the question in these straitened times so both the Glenorchy Hall and Queenstown’s Memorial Hall are to be refurbished – with the latter getting new tables and chairs. Total cost $248,000.