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Slash and Burn - Questions

The following is taken directly from the proposal that was put to staff by the Chief Executive on Thursday 16 February.

 “Two strategic changes are driving differences in this process compared to the last. Firstly, with Council recording over $120m in debt and rates over 14% above the national average (Thames is 20% over this) TCDC is in a serious financial position" (my bold).

In addition to the 43 positions that are to be eliminated (with 13 - 5 in the area offices, to be created);

"This review coordinates with the organisation-wide budget review targetting 5-10% operational savings".

Then comes the ultimate furphy:

Secondly, the elected Council has asked that the proposal delivers on a model of "community empowerment". 

Oh boy! - more on that later

This is the first time that the financial position of the Council has been described as “serious” - just how serious has yet to be revealed. The present Council has been taking on projects such as the Whitianga sportsground and town centre upgrade as if there was no tomorrow, and it would appear that never at any time was this “serious” financial position taken into account. Other community boards have been less successful at getting their “pet” projects funded, but we are still to see the effects of this “serious" financial position on the yet to be revealed Ten Year Plan.

David Hammond has been in the job for one month, and has already undertaken this massive reorganisation amounting to a slash and burn of planning and environmental (regulatory) services in particular. The financial position must indeed be serious for such a reorganisation to be undertaken with such speed and disregard for the futures of so many dedicated staff. These areas are precisely those that affect developers, and we know the support that they provided in getting the current Mayor and a majority of councillors in place.

There is general desire amongst all those associated with development to loosen the controls that have been put in place to prevent coastal strip development, and that prevent landowners sub-dividing at will. First step – knock out anyone standing in their way. Breast the bar at any of the clubs and pubs on the East coast, and you hear these views expressed with gusto. There will be much glee in those quarters at what has taken place - the path towards achieving the Mayor’s mantra of “economic development before everything else” has come to pass. I feel very sorry for the dedicated people who have faithfully put the policies of previous councils in place. This new Council came in with a mandate to change, and led by some strong willed characters they have allowed themselves to be pushed headlong into this brave new world.  

The so called “serious” financial situation is a smokes-screen, that is, unless there has been a serious recent deterioration. Borrowing may be high, but it is no higher than had been planned by this Council when it decided last year to increase its “external” borrowing limit to $125m. Were councillors unaware of the situation when they allowed Cr. McLean to talk them into accepting this new level – mainly so that he could get on with his projects in Whitanga. Or were they simply bamboozled – not for the first time. The borrowing is in any case apparently regarded by the Audit General as “prudent” and within their parameters. The only other possible cause lies with the failure once again to achieve anywhere near the development contribution budget – it has been out by millions in each of at least the last five years, indicating high level incompetence, always excused by the reliance on totally unrealistic growth projections provided by Berl Associates. But what is different?   

The important question that must be asked is just why these same councillors allowed themselves to adopt a reduction of rates to an average -1% in the current year when the original recommendation was between for a 5-6% increase.

Nothing creates a “serious” financial position faster than slashing of rates immediately following an election to meet totally irresponsible election promises.   

What exactly do our erstwhile councillors intend to do about rates in the face of this new “serious” financial situation? Cutting the guts out of the Council’s planning and regulatory functions appears to be way to go. But will this achieve all that is now considered necessary? I don’t think so. Like night follows day, this Council is set to make further staffing cuts. From the same Proposal:

"Council need to be able to ask the questions whether the work of Council can still be done, and whether, in their view, the structural changes go far enough" 

That is double Dutch for "There is more to come"!

Will they remove the ‘pet’ projects of Cr. McLean’s, and others from the Ten Year Plan – that is yet to be seen. The repeated references to “community empowerment” in the document, long driven by community board chair – Keith Johnston (not even an elected member of Council), is breathtaking in concept, financially inept if not suicidal, and contrarian in the extreme.

This Council, led by Glenn Leach has been contemptuous of its predecessors at all times, it has made irresponsible decisions, and now it is caught in the headlights. It will be interesting to see how it copes with this new situation, but expect continuing decision making behind ‘closed doors’, and further attempts to keep ratepayers in the dark, exemplified by the decision to restrict the distribution of the Ten Plan Summary to Service Centres.

These are serious questions that need to be answered – previous experience indicates that to be an unlikely outcome. Dead silence in the face of criticism is current modus operandi.




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Reader Comments (2)


The assertion that the Council is in 'a serious financial position' is, as you have said, just garbage, especially when one considers that a huge proportion of the Councils $125 million debt is 'internal debt' where the Council is only borrowing from its own cash reserves. When this is taken into account, the TCDC is actually in an extremely conservative financial position. And that was the argument used by the new Council early in their term when they unanimously voted to loosen the Councils borrowing criteria, allowing for even more debt to be incurred!

So your argument that this ''serious financial position' is little more than a smoke screen to rip into and dismantle the Councils Planning and regulatory Departments must be taken seriously.

Anyone interested in providing sensible planning barriers to the mining industry should start worrying about this situation. Legally sustainable planning provisions to deal with mining were to be encapsulated within the new District Plan, especially with regard to its landscape provisions, natural character provisions and the identification of SNA's . Now that is all at risk of being either watered down or totally removed.

And at the bottom of all this Our Mayors agenda may be little more than 'utu' for the fact that the Councils Planning department once reduced the number of sections in a subdivision application he made a few years ago in the high ground behind Whitianga. Interesting too that his campaign manager for the mayoral election was his professional planning advisor for this subdivision application.

Naivety that seems to abound with many in our District.

It is time we woke up before its too late.

Congratulations on providing the only informed commentary on the current Councils activities.

Dal Minogue.

February 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDal Minogue

Completely agree with all Bill & Dal's points. How can these destructive agendas be fought ?

March 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBruce

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