As we near the end of lock down (well, at least we are allowed takeaways – right?) I thought it a good opportunity to do a stock-take. Where are we at and what is going on in Council?
Besides which my Councillor update in Newsline that was supposed to go out in the last issue (after being bumped previously) was again bumped so that we could fit in a story about ex-mayor Kempthorne getting a medal, and an article about getting better fuel economy when driving. All highly urgent uses of space during the lockdown.
Well most of what is going on in the Council is going on under the direction of the Mayor and CEO. On the odd occasion Councillors are invited to participate via “zoom.”
Interestingly, the Council voted to run with a zero rate increase (excluding growth, and excluding fixed charges, and oh I am sure there will be other exclusions). This is interesting because the Councillors were all suddenly concerned about affordability issues for the ratepayers.
In the weeks leading up to lockdown we, the Council, approved millions of dollars of unbudgeted spend. This despite the dam blowing out again and the ratepayer now being the sole source of dam funding. Yet we kept piling on the unbudgeted spend as recommended by some staff that appear to be completely out-of-touch-with-reality or at least with the desperate situation that many of our rate-payers find themselves.
The compassion was short lived. We had the opportunity during a dam update to ask the question what it would look like if we shelved the project for the time being. Taking into account the huge blow outs in costs to the ratepayer, no certainty that we have seen the last of them, and a recession hitting our ratepayers hard in the next few months it seemed like a prudent action to make an informed decision. However, the majority of obviously wealthy councillors were not interested in at least finding out the cost of such a proposal.
Lets just proceed at any cost because Mike Scott said it would cost too much to stop the dam and we had to just complete it. Although Mike Scott cannot give us a price to finish the dam and has no idea what it would cost council to pause the contract. “The cost of last year’s drought would probably have paid for about half the dam” he says. But again, not knowing what half the price of the dam will be, and the fact that even our worst drought in recent memory the local GDP increased it is hard to take him seriously. He must be an expert because he has a hard hat on (although this is his first dam project).
Incidentally he is the same Mike Scott that said “We have done 15 bore logs in the area and know the geology very well.
And follows it up with: However, Mike Scott, the man in charge of the dam build near Nelson, said that, in his view, that risk was not fully contemplated or accommodated in the design of the dam.
“We had to change the design,” he said.
What is probably more annoying is that in the last dam update where we were informed of the dam design change to a synthetic membrane faced dam, instead of a concrete faced dam, I asked what would this $1million to $2million in savings do to the life span of the dam. I was told there would be no drop in longevity it would last 100 years. In this last update we are now informed that the membrane lifespan would be 50 to maybe 100 years. Which indicates a significant drop in levels of service.
And to further cast doubt on the information Mr Scott is presenting, he confirms that the manufacturer warranty is only for 20 years. It doesn’t sound like a 100 year life product to me (but I don’t have a hard hat so what do I know).
I know that we have appealed to the Government for more money (that way only the taxpayers will be hit in the pocket). It would seem that the honourable Dr Smith is too busy throwing tantrums about being irrelevant (after all COVID-19 is all about Dr Smith) to be much of an advocate, so I guess we are relying solely on the other half of the comedy duo to petition for money for we the Lotus eaters.
It is a good job that the irrigators who bought a share or two are happy subsidising the bigger operators. As this dam keeps escalating in costs those people with a few water shares and a high capital value properties are going to face eye watering rate increases. Not only from the WIL liability, but also for being in the zone of burden capital charges, and if they are hooked up to reticulated residential supplies it will be cheaper to drink petrol post COVID-19.
Of course, business as usual does not end there. Today we approved another $60,000 of unbudgeted spend to review our freedom camping bylaw. It is obvious that hoards of freedom campers are going to descend on Tasman from the heavens over the next 12 months to 2 years that we have to push this item forward with unbudgeted spend rather than put it through the normal channels of the Long Term Plan or Annual Plan processes. No doubt it will also require extra staff to be hired or contracted in as well.
Looking ahead to Thursday there is the recommendation that we Chlorinate our water supplies full time all the time. Another agenda being rushed through under urgency because our water supplies might suddenly develop COVID-19? No figures are attached to this report, but we can assume that a consultation will be upwards of $80,000. Again, all unbudgeted spend. Perhaps we can not do some maintenance to make headroom for it. I am sure there is some more water pipes in Wakefield due for renewal that we can “sweat” another 10 years.
I am looking forward to seeing a report on how we will achieve the (almost with numerous exclusions) zero rate increase – that alone will mean not delivering on budgeted projects. Continue to load up with unbudgeted spend. And, not increase our debt cap that several councillors and staff are desperate to push up.
In the meantime, stay safe in your bubble – unless you are the minister of health, then you can go to the beach, go mountain biking, and allegedly move house while under lockdown level 4. Or go fishing if you are the deputy PM. But get arrested if you are the guy who went hunting and isn’t a minister.