Otago’s regional council has shut its Queenstown office - less than four months after its main staffer died.
Community stalwart Colin Walker, who opened the council’s Queenstown office in 1994, succumbed to cancer in August.
On Monday, the council closed the office’s doors, saying it’s now reviewing how best to serve ratepayers.
The council justifies the move by saying the office - awkwardly upstairs at The Station building - had low patronage and the only other Queenstown staffer, a customer services officer, has resigned.
But former mayor Warren Cooper slams the council for its lack of interest in the area.
“I frankly don’t think they’ve paid heed to, or been interested in, the Wakatipu in the last 20 years.
“It could be described as benign neglect inspired by the Dunedin office.”
Ironically, the regional council’s pullout comes as it consults Queenstowners on two important issues - public transport and wilding tree control.
The move has been made during an extraordinary boom for the resort - for commercial and residential building, as well as record levels of tourists washing through town.
Cooper says it’s hard for Wakatipu ratepayers to figure out the benefit from the regional council.
But he would say that. As local government minister he tried, unsuccessfully, to axe all regional councils.
Other politicians’ reaction is more muted.
Mayor Vanessa van Uden didn’t know about it and wouldn’t comment till she knew more.
Deputy mayor and mayoral candidate Lyal Cocks notes the regional council now has permanent staffers in his home town of Wanaka, adding: “The need for more than one office in the district is questionable.”
In an emailed statement, regional council “stakeholder engagement” boss Caroline Rowe says: “The office will be closed while we assess a number of options for the most effective means of servicing ratepayers across the region.”
She sends ratepayer enquiries to their computers and phones - or the “nearby” Alexandra office.
The council has also washed its hands of navigation safety of Lake Wakatipu, handing that to Queenstown’s council.