Helene Ritchie: Runaway rates for vanity projects (Opinion)

“Wellington City Council’s rates hike at 6.1% is too high. Priorities are skewed in the wrong direction towards vanity projects for political expediency,  and disproportionate “growth-economic” funds and projects.  The result: cuts and deliberately delayed spending on essential infrastructure  eg. to prevent flooding  around the Basin Reserve and Medical Centre) or to strengthen the Capital’s languishing historic Town Hall-closed and kept closed for up to eight years, scheduled to reopen only in 2019/20.

Editors Note: Before I get the “6.1% is not correct” backlash, the burdened rates are actually that figure. The reality is that rates are set down to 4.9% next year, which I have confirmed with the Deputy Mayor. The long term rate increase under the LTP is significant. I calculate 62% over the next decade. This has been very confusing. When I contacted several Councillors none of them could give me the figure for next year’s increases. Which is worrying, when they are the governor’s of Wellington.

It is disingenuous  of the mayor  to say that “we have kept our promise of no more than 4.5% average rates increase per year”…..when in fact the document (P. 10) shows  the increase is  6. 1% this year,  (which is on top of the Regional Council’s 9.8%.). Some people will receive a significant rates shock with an even higher increase of their rates.

It is disingenuous for the CEO to say  P. 7. “our growth agenda that we consulted on received strong support from the community, so we’ve got a mandate for pushing on, “ when the truth is that fewer than 1 % (.7% of  voters) actually commented by way of formal submissions (1017 P. 10), let alone gave support or a mandate.

It is very wrong to sell significant strategic public assets –by subdividing disposing of huge chunks of the civic centre –land and buildings accumulated by former generations for this magnificent world class public space(s), and it is wrong  to go against Council’s own district Plan to commit to the  subdivision of this designated  heritage centre.

It is wrong to propose selling $52million (P. 254) of land on the waterfront and in civic centre

IT IS JUST WRONG

  • To commit or intend to commit significant rates on vanity projects ( a $267 million “envelope” in addition to  $90m for an unnecessary airport runway extension),  for eg.
  • The so far failed Convention Centre approx. $35m to help fund a private development- (and more well beyond the life of the ten year plan)
  • Airport runway Extension (at least $90 million) to fund a private company-Infratil.
  • A Concert/sports arena $64 million
  • A War museum
  • To sell public assets to support private pockets and projects such as the

Disposal of civic centre and buildings- green open space-Illot Green, Michael Fowler Centre open space; Historic Municipal Corporation-Council building; Capital E (and the City to Sea Bridge above it?)

  • To assume cuts in essential infrastructure and staffing “efficiencies” as the plan did- “$101 million reduction in infrastructure renewals.” (reduced by $30m but for 2021).  It is wrong to cut and delay expenditure while people live flooded and in flood and coastal erosion prone areas ignoring flooding. To ignore  a public call from an Capacity engineer for an immediate $45million to fix a repeated flooding problem around the Basin Reserve and Emergency Medical Centre 
  • To commit future generations to proposed cumulative rates increases and consequent unaffordable living
  • To have “economic” slush funds-with inadequate transparency-such that there is still no public disclosure of just how much Fifa, at present under investigation for corruption, has been given by this Council this year and previously
  • To undermine democracy with the spin and misrepresentation in Council’s documentation, especially  in “Our ten year plan” and submission form questions in the guise of public consultation eg.

The Civic centre

Should Council strengthen its key civic square buildings and offset the cost where possible?” but with no explanation  there of the proposed subdivision, disposal and sale of civic centre land.

The Airport extension

Should Council take action to improve our international air connections? But with no explanation there of an at least  $90 million rates commitment to this.

Former Bishop Richard Randerson, a submitter,  has said, “Democracy is undermined when misinformation deprives citizens of their informed decision making role while political manipulators skew the playing field to their own advantage…” He submitted on his concerns about consultation and the airport extension.

WHAT IS RIGHT ?

 There is however, much that is right in this plan but too much that is wrong.

  • Some funding enhancements in some areas of business as usual –our parks, our natural environment, our sports, our school pool partnerships, our social infrastructure, our cultural and sporting events, our suburban community and town centres, the Kaka community development project in Brooklyn and our promotion of  our I.T. savvy City
  • Support for the living wage for our employees in a climate of serious and unsustainable inequality in our Wellington and New Zealand community
  • Personally I have been pleased to be able to secure the funding commitment for a new Johnsonville Library, and extra funds to enhance our natural environment and the interactive children’s garden.

While supporting some and a significant  part of the ten year plan, reluctantly I cannot support the disproportionate and cumulative rates hike as the priorities for extra expenditure are wrong.

The overall thrust and new priorities of this ten year plan at the expense of essential work is wrong, and the rates increase is unnecessarily and improperly high.”

Wellington City Councillor Helene Ritchie              0274488669

Helene, a former deputy mayor, is Wellington’s longest serving city councillor

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