Last year Councillors were presented with a report that said we had to rent a floor of office space in the Mall because we needed to refurbish the Council building, and we could only do this properly by moving a large group of staff out of the building and conducting a rolling refurbishment throughout our building.
At the time, I said let’s be honest that once we expand into the mall we will never shrink back. The CEO assured me that that was not the case, that we would indeed give up the mall lease and return to our original footprint once the refurbishment was done.
A few months after our expansion into the mall premises Councillors were presented with another once in a lifetime opportunity to expand into a nearby building because staff were unable to function in the workspaces of our current location. Despite the fact that when requests for more and more staff were coming through, I started asking what the cost of taking on these staff would be. At the time I was informed of the wage cost. I responded with the wage cost is only part of the cost, what about the cost of accommodation? I was assured that we would “squeeze them in.”
In between moving staff to the mall and telling us we need to lease another building; we were presented a case of how we needed to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading the civic area of the council buildings.
Fortunately, Councillors were able to create enough pushback to halt these endeavours by staff until a proper review of our building requirements was carried out. Had we not done so; more money would have been wasted on half-baked solutions.
The Motueka Library was another example where decisions were made on information that was suspect at best. When the proposed new Library for Motueka was put forward there was a drive from a number of Councillors and community members to create a “hub” where the library would incorporate a new Council centre as well.
Staff pushed back saying that the service centre was fine and we should only build a single-story library.
No sooner than Council had signed off on the Library design than a staff report came through telling us that the Motueka service centre was “not fit for purpose” and we needed to rebuild it.
This was also prior to the staff accommodation review telling us that we needed more staff office space. Taking all this information into account would have made a very different picture for the economics of building a multi-story library in Motueka with the ability to house more staff and serve the community well into the future. Instead, we have a barely big enough library that does not solve any of the other issues.
Earlier this year, I was concerned with the constant proposals by staff that we spend literally hundreds of thousands of dollars, seemingly at every Council meeting, and the Councillors that were voting according to staff recommendations.
I suggested that our Council had no idea of the impending impact that COVID was about to have on our community and their ability to fund all this unbudgeted money that we were spending (after all the previous Council spent every last cent of our debt cap and future commercial returns to fund a dam).
Because of my involvement with the Stock Market, I was watching the global situation with COVID and the impact that it was having around the world as it headed our way. But after my comment that this Council was ill-informed, the Mayor assured me that he and the Council staff had a “pretty good grasp” about COVID and its potential impacts.
About two weeks later the country was in level 4 lockdown, and a few weeks after that the Council voted through a rate freeze for the current year. Well informed?
All of this continues to build on a dam that we were told had a 95% probability that it would be built for $76 million. Or the “as good as a fixed price” $104 million dam. Currently, the dam sits at $139 million plus COVID related costs, plus other design work that was not part of the original quote. A further costing update we are promised will be tabled in February next year.
Tomorrow we will be asked to vote on a new Long-Term Plan and there will much justification about why we need to raise the debt cap and rate increase cap. Councillors who said during campaigning that they were against raising debt caps will be arguing for it. They were also signing off on all the unbudgeted spending that has put us in this situation.
The Mayor who campaigned that he believed he could keep us within our rate and debt caps (with his 20 years experience) by making the hard decisions, also did not make a single “hard decision” this year that would have led to us reducing our spend in any way.
In fact, he was one of the most vocal proponents for Council giving the Nelson Regional Development Agency an extra $200 000 (he was in favour of more) for a total of $500 000 of rate-payer’s hard-earned money this year alone. What return have they achieved with this money? So far, all I have seen is a report about why they need even more money.
To the people of Tasman who elected a “more of the same” Council, we have delivered for you more of the same. More debt, more poorly directed spending, and in my view a complete lack of accountability for the poor decisions that put us in the situation where we are challenging the leader board for the most unaffordable rates in the Country.
That said, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and I look forward to hearing from you as we go out to consultation next year with our proposed Long-Term Plan of unaffordable rates and skyrocketing debt.