Karen V Swaine
Council has treated our district’s boat of governance like their own luxury yacht, carelessly partying up instead of diligently steering a sustainable course. It is simplistic to suggest we can avoid a shipwreck simply by reducing discretionary spending, as major infrastructure costs loom. We must strengthen and diversify our economy to expand our ratings base. Sensible ideas abound in Tomorrow’s Queenstown; let’s dust off this document. Only intelligent and responsible governance will steer us away from the rocks now. Removing from the helm the captain and those crew who set us on this reckless course will be a good start
A key focus for all of council must be to ensure debt levels are strictly controlled. However, debt is essential to fund many of the planned projects that are necessary to adequately sustain growth in the region. The current 10-year plan is under scrutiny with regard to projected debt levels. This debt level involved funding substantial infrastructure projects into the future. Many of these were optimistic plans which need to be reviewed in depth as to priority. Council must also try and identify further revenue opportunities and more planning of future expenditure within realistic revenue projections.
How any council debt can go to $300 million in the next few years just scares me. I would rein in council debt by looking at consultancy fees. They tell me $17 million was spent on consultants. This is ridiculous! But what scares me even more is that we may be committed to raising debt. The Ten-Year Plan has been put out but the council looks at that plan every three years. I will be looking closely at it for cuts. I have pledged to look at a bed tax and although businesses pay a commercial rate we must look at other ways of getting revenue.
We will need to persist with the work on the Long Term Council Community Plan to cut out all spending that is not absolutely essential. We need to continue to examine closely the whole scope of operation within council to ensure there is financial efficiency. Most importantly we must continue to pressure Central Government to acknowledge the need for an infrastructure to manage a visitor population that is up to three times greater than the ratepayer base. A contribution of Crown Land as was done with the Commonage in the mid- eighties, and a portion of the local GST take coming here directly would be a good start.
To effect and direct initiative in the:
– Exploration of options for alternative funding streams.
– Review of existing and future operational costs and spending obligations towards achieving efficiencies.
– Research of cost-effective methods of procurement.
– Application of value-based assessment and results-based testing of existing and new programmes.
At the same time ensuring that council maintains an overall vision that enables the district to achieve and uphold a status as a quality international tourist destination that has sustainable and steady growth.
I consider short-term debt financing the main driver behind rates increases so reducing that debt first will have huge positives for the ratepayer. Reigning in consultancy spending and the council’s culture of unabated wishlist spending is a good start. Better operational budget monitoring so we can realise a surplus on rates take verses spending would give the council an opportunity to reduce debt. Involving the innovative thinkers of our community to find alternative revenue streams is also critical so we’re not borrowing to fund essential infrastructure projects. A complete review of staffing levels and salaries is how the private sector deals with their balance sheet deficits.
Firstly, revisit the Ten-Year Plan, prioritise all capital projects, and defer lower priority ones. Infrastructure has to be top priority. We also need to make sure project budgets are accurate and based on realistic growth projections. Secondly, only be involved in activities that are council functions. Inefficiencies within council budgets should be removed to save on annual outgoings. Thirdly, establish an economic development body to encourage business diversity and grow the rating base. Fourthly, consider options such as public-private partnerships where appropriate to spread our rates further. Fifthly, sell non-productive assets (e.g. vacant land) if necessary to reduce debt.
Restructure current debt to reduce interest payments for current/future generations. Reschedule and prioritize capital projects to realistic/sustainable level. Demand operating costs are contained within within revenue by;
– an embargo on external consultants ($18m p.a !)
– require CCOs to operate within their own revenue
– reduce roading costs (highset in NZ) by reviewing tendering/procurement procedures to take advantage of current competitive construction market.
– review utilities and solid waste contracts – currently blown out by $1 million p.a
– cap annual rate increases pegged to CPI
– pursue additional external revenue/funding opportunities, such as additional government funding for roading/infrastructure.
In order to set up budgets to address the existing and growing debt I intend to promote brainstorming sessions at the council table to: set priority of spending, assess if the potential spending is wanted or needed in our area, encourage business opportunities owned by the council to stimulate money coming back into our local economy and investigate how the present council systems can be moulded for our greater economical benefit.
We need to delay big ticket items – like government-imposed sewage treatment and water standards – where we can. We need to lobby strongly for government funding where resultant costs are not sustainable for our population. Debt is a question of equity and balance as well as affordability. Otherwise today’s ratepayers have to pay full costs for infrastructure needed by future residents or we have to rip up pipes etc every few years as they become too small for our population. We need Toyota Corolla not Rolls-Royce jobs, the best expertise at the best price, efficiency, sound planning and vision.
I have been involved for over 12 months in an extensive review of our future Capital Works program and completing that work is one of the prime reasons I am standing. There are over 1500 items within the 10-Year programme that a small group of management and colleagues have been reassessing and prioritising. Individual projects are being scrutinised for cost, timing and risk and whether they meet the test of essential works, or just good to have. I believe this work to be significant, as it directly affects our debt and will create a sustainable platform for our future.
At the candidates meeting last Wednesday night in the Memorial Hall, I was the only candidate that raised this matter of future possible debt at $400 million. Shown in last annual plan. As a first time candidate, not being fully briefed on the council finances, this projected debt plus the $100 million present debt gives great concern. Considerable savings had been made by the last council in many parts of their budget, this is commendable. I know that due to my many years in business, budgeting, tendering and contracting I would expect to find other places where budget cuts could be made.