Local Body Elections 2019
(As identified by the Wanganui Ratepayers Association)
This October, Whanganui citizens will once again be asked to vote for local body councillors and Mayor. Last election, the overriding issue was the expenditure around the waste water treatment plant, and, to a lesser degree, Whanganui’s economic growth, tourism, and council expenditure.
The Wanganui Ratepayers Association, after canvassing its members and board, has identified what it considers to be the main issues in this year’s election and urges voters to take into account the views of current and potential councillors on the following topics listed in no particular order:
Sarjeant Gallery – Initially, this earthquake strengthening project budget was estimated at $32 million. This was followed by an updated estimate of just over $40 million. The latest information received by the Wanganui Ratepayers Association is that the overall cost will likely be in the vicinity of $50 million. The Wanganui Ratepayers’ Association has requested confirmation of this figure. Council has promised $5 million towards the total cost. This is in addition to $4 million already spent in establishing the Sarjeant on the Quay. The question is; if the funds so far spent and pledged by council and central government, plus funds from fundraising efforts from the private sector do not meet the rapidly escalating costs, will ratepayers be expected to make up the shortfall? The association is concerned that the final costs could well be underestimated and draw attention to the Wellington town hall earthquake strengthening, which started out at $40 million and is now estimated to be in excess of $120 million. The association urgently asks council to provide up to date cost estimates before the election so voters can be more informed.
Port Development – council has budgeted over $12 million for redeveloping and repair work for the Port of Whanganui. The question is: What is the opinion of each of the council candidates on the benefits regarding the port investment? While investment in projects that create economic growth and employment is welcome, the available information on the economic benefits of this expenditure is inadequate.
Velodrome – The Ratepayers Association has been a strong supporter of the proposal for roofing the Velodrome complex. However, despite council and central government committing to funding, no start has been made to actual construction. There is concern that continued procrastination may emanate in progressive deterioration of the track which could eventually be too costly to repair. Cost benefit analysis and business plans indicate that this project will run at a profit and create growth for Whanganui. Therefore, if Council is seriously committed to this project, why has there been such a prolonged delay for final approval and commencement on construction?
Joint governorship / ownership of our public parks, lakes and reserves – The Ratepayers Association was given notice that an AIP (Agreement in Principle) was given to council to give local Iwi joint governorship / ownership of many of our local parks, lakes and reserves. This agreement was not marked confidential but council were well along the process timeline without any public consultation. Since the document was made public by the association, no information has been forthcoming from council on what stage of the process this proposal is sitting. Can each of the prospective councillors make public their support or otherwise on this proposal prior to the election?
Council Rate Rise – Once again there is a budgeted rate rise well in excess of inflation (an average of over 3%). The Ratepayers Association does not accept this rise is justified when Whanganui already has some of the highest rates in the country per capita, and one of the lowest per capita incomes, with a high proportion of pensioners, unemployed and beneficiaries. The Association considers that if council had cancelled or deferred costly expenditure of the council offices refurbishment, council staff wage rises and cycle ways, there was a good case for a nil rate increase this coming year. Councillor candidates are asked to make known their individual views on council expenditure and future rate rises.
Climate Change Emergency – there are councillors urging a declaration of climate change emergency. The Ratepayers Association asserts that any climate change activity that ‘might’ impact, does not currently constitute a requirement for an emergency declaration, without irrefutable proof that climate change activity is causing an immediate negative impact. If the declaration is a purely symbolic gesture of ‘jumping on the climate change bandwagon’ it makes a mockery of the whole meaning of “emergency”. If an emergency declaration is proposed by a majority of councillors, what effect will that have on costs, compliance and added bureaucracy? Do council candidates support this action and what are the consequences / benefits for all ratepayers?
Finally, the Wanganui Ratepayers Association, along with Grey Power, have announced an intention of holding a “Meet the candidates” forum just prior to the election in October to hear from each Council and Mayoral candidate. The public will be invited to ask questions from the floor. Further details of this meeting will be announced soon.