ODT: ‘voters expect a frugal council’

### ODT Online Mon, 8 Feb 2010
Editorial: A spendthrift tendency
Track Dunedin City Council rate increases over the past 15 years and a pattern emerges. As expected, most increases outstrip inflation levels. Councils have complained about being saddled with more responsibilities, major infrastructure upgrades have been required and it is the nature of local government to spend more and more. Empires built on other people’s money will expand without assiduous and active watchdogs. But less obvious is the effect of elections.

‘the post-election prospects for ratepayer purses are bleak’

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Post by Elizabeth Kerr

27 Comments

Filed under Economics, Politics, Project management, Stadiums, Urban design

27 responses to “ODT: ‘voters expect a frugal council’

  1. The ODT editorial has some very good points to make, in a general sense, about debt spending and how it happens, but becomes directionless towards the end. What areas of ‘discretionary spending’, is it thinking of where debt spending can be cut? It doesn’t say. Some big projects are seen as good even if they require spending above inflation because they are seen to ‘progress’ the city. They give the example of the stadium – for ‘better or for worse’. No other worthy big projects are mentioned. No surprise there as the ODT has been right behind the stadium from the start. The ODT’s logo was in the double page ODT spread of businesses, supporting the stadium, a couple of years ago. It was obvious to close watchers of the ODT that they were strongly there from the start. I went to the CST launch of the feasibility report in February 2007 at the Clifford Skeggs Gallery. Former ODT editor Robin Charteris chaired the meeting. Questions were asked of Mr Farry at the end. It all got quite tricky for him – especially in relation to questions on the stadium land. The meeting was promptly shut down at 7pm as Mr Farry had to go to see the ORFU, apparently, and there was no more time for questions. He was still in the room chatting to his supporters at least half an hour later. No hurry, after all. Why all this history you might ask? Because it puts in perspective the cleft stick the ODT is in with its support of the stadium and the stadium’s disastrous financial unravelling and the impact of the stadium on the city’s debt. This I feel explains the editorial here. Like much reporting of the stadium in the ODT it only goes so far in its investigations, but no further. There are appearances to keep as ‘the independent voice of the south’. We have waited, for so long, for the ODT to report ‘without fear or favour’ – a keystone of journalistic ethics. Think about those key people, like Mr Farry. Can you remember any report that got stuck into his assertions and promises for what will be delivered for the stadium?

  2. David

    The ODT threw its editorial independence in the rubbish bin at the start of the Stadium Project.

    And if they use biased reporting for a stadium, then everything they report on is questionable.

    When a minor upstart like D Scene can out-report ODT on the stadium, week after week, then you have to ask what’s going on at the ODT.

    Then they edit comments on their website every time there is a comment against the ODT – even when they’ve made outright factual errors, they censor criticism.

    They didn’t even report that the private funding targets needed before DCC kicked in with ratepayers funds, were never met.

    CST did dodgy accounting and double counted five year memberships, to make them ten years. ODT knew this, which should have stopped the stadium, but they never reported it.

    • Elizabeth

      There is a glowing difference, it appears, between today’s editorial and the earlier one stating the annual plan process is a sham. Those closer to the ODT editorial team will know who wrote what, and why.

      We would surely love to know.

      I can’t help but note the owners of the Allied Press are not the ODT editorial staff.

      Editor: Murray Kirkness
      Deputy editor: Bryan James
      Associate editor: Barry Stewart
      Assistant editor: Simon Cunliffe

  3. Richard

    One interesting point touched on by Peter.

    The failure of the editor to recognise that “discretionary non-core spending” accounts for only 5% to 10% of the annual budget and identify where cuts could be made. For example, library services which account for about 22% of that discretionary spending.

    Just look what happens when it is suggested that there only be one late night a week instead of five saving about $100,000 in wages and … wait for it … security guards who have to be employed for ‘safety reasons’ between 6pm and 8 pm to service 150 or so customers!

    Not that some of those 150 come into the library to read or borrow books as the ‘activity’ some nights on the corner benches in the windows on the southern side testify! It ain’t Mills and Boon stuff believe me!

    Whatever our views on any activity or project, fact is that it is the upgrading of core services, their increased operating costs, depreciation that essentially drive (and continue to drive) rating increases.

    I guess the same kind of factors, plus, of course, the need to main a dividend flow to shareholders – that explains why the price of newspapers keeps going up too!

    • Elizabeth

      As Library Services Manager Bernie Hawke noted – in his reporting to the Pre-Draft Annual Plan meeting of the council – the library hours (presumably he was referring to the Central Library) are less than those of New Zealand libraries in similar size (population) centres. I was there.

      We can all appreciate that many contemporary public libraries serve a number of functions and one of those is, properly, ‘community centre’.

      Dunedin is SO behind in opening up its libraries as multipurpose hubs and gathering places. There is a lingering whiff of dusty tomes, that is not confined to the McNab collection. We are simply not keeping up with modern expectations – or working precedents.

      So what, if security has to monitor ‘activity’ and ‘safety’, or anything else, for long or longer hours – the library is a public place. A public place that, in Dunedin, is fringing on sub optimal in what it offers to a contemporary multifarious user audience.

      Gosh. When the lights and heat go down at home because of Dunedin rates and rent increases, I’d like to think the city’s public library system could keep people ‘comfortable’ and ‘communed’ for a few more hours on a cold Dunedin night.

      It’s not like we have warm subways here in which to congregate with our hunks of cardboard, since the mal-stadium project has seen an end to dreams, in the (imagined! known!) worst of separatist political and financial scenarios. Ah well.

      It’s tragic to see how windows are not transparent for the community-owned-stadium budgets, but they are clear and illuminating on the south side of the library.

      What does this tell us about Dunedin, the Council, Old Boys, Tricksters and Rascals of the hood.

      I think maybe we should turn up the heat is what it means.

  4. David

    Richard – so a $200m stadium makes no difference to rates increases?

    If that’s the case, why don’t we have some more $200m projects.

    Perhaps some that will actually make a decent return for the city.

  5. As you point out, Elizabeth, the ODT is not all on the same page with the stadium. There are reporters on the ODT, who are not sympathetic to the stadium and see it for what it is. Like the division in the rest of the community. The editorial staff at the top are the ones who drive this and they are basically pro stadium. They claim editorial independence so we could take their word for this. One of the owners, Nick Smith, is a member of Our Stadium. Julian Smith is the other owner. I’m not exactly sure where he stands, but I have never heard him utter a peep against the stadium.

  6. Phil

    Agreed. If security is required to keep a genuine community facility operating, then so be it. More than happy to pay so that my kids, and my old dad, can continue to safely benefit directly from a cultural resource provided by the city. I agree also that the library leaders’ mentality unfortunately still can’t see past the concept of “books”. Modern libraries are so much more. But that’s a rant for another day.

    If we are prepared to shunt taxi stands around, close off sections of roads, repair the smashed windows weekly at the Municipal Lane toilets, all in the name of appeasing the drunken hordes that now permanently inhabit the lower Octagon, then we can spare a few security guards to keep the library open.

  7. Richard

    “What does this tell us?” asks Elizabeth. Well, it makes my point really.

    Why open something when there is little demand? Have you actually stood in the Plaza, or on George Street and seen how many shops are open at 6 pm every night of the week let alone at 7 pm or 8 pm, how little street ‘activity’ there is?

    As for “down the line”, have you noticed that the current LTCCP provides for an $800,000 increase in library operating costs (that’s a 2% ‘permanent’ rate increase) …. just for the proposed South Dunedin Library. No savings anywhere else.

    (That is likely to change somewhat if the proposal to use the former CPO proceeds, e.g. the bookbuses would not be serviced from South Dunedin).

    That 2% will be on top of the usual annual increases. The Ratepayers Association seem to be the only ones outside of council who have noted and questioned this!

    Now I am in full support of our library services et al. And Bernie Hawke is a very good manager.

    But does it have to be a “Rolls Royce” service when a Honda would do very well?

    • Elizabeth

      Richard – I wasn’t the one to bring up ‘rolls royce’ in relation to library services.

      Off on another tangent, but it is related. Why is the centre of town looking ‘unpopulated’ on certain nights or at certain hours, except (later) for bar goers ‘under the influence’ and ‘trouble opportunists’ that render the city unsafe and unpleasant for others. Would people make greater use of the library in the evenings if the central city, or the library itself, offered them a more interactive programme and facilities?

      I tend to wander through town at all hours. My early work history (not in Dunedin) took me to places and situations that most people would never encounter. I don’t scare easily, take care on reconnaissance and calculate risk. On the whole Dunedin is pretty safe, but there are areas of town that frighten people, it’s completely understandable.

      A community gathering place… a contemporary library format and associated activities, put together with more mixed residential accommodation – including for families – and a diversity of small businesses in the inner city, and modestly priced eateries (not bars) that don’t stop serving tea and coffee at 4pm (yawn), would be helpful to ‘regenerate’ the middle of town. Same for South Dunedin.

      Libraries are about enabling people and a small city. In the past we might have gone to church and sung in the choir, or conducted housie evenings to raise funds for the stadium.

      Well conceived libraries provide positive choices and connections – active communities. They are less about books.

      And yes, as David correctly indicates – how to get people to their libraries is one of the primary design issues. Where should the libraries be located for magnet ease of use.

      Then too, one of the ‘hard’ issues cutting across all this is the popular and historic rise of the (dormitory) suburb as distinct from the location of active workplaces.

  8. David

    Richard – a lot of people is Sth Dunedin don’t have a Rolls Royce or a Honda.

    They have a mobility scooter. Which doesn’t go on the bus.

    I think there would be few places in the whole country that would benefit as much from a library as South Dunedin.

  9. TheOtherDavid

    David, South Dunedin would be one part of our country that is least able to cope with more big rates increases. For some, a new South Dunedin library will mean they can’t afford a mobility scooter. How did we end up like this – giving our city councils the power to take unlimited amounts of our money with the ability to waste it on any foolish whim of their fancy.

  10. Richard

    Elizabeth, no I wasn’t implying you had suggested “Rolls Royce” services. It is simply an analogy that has been raised before in regard to a number of activities when a reduction in service or operating costs is suggested. And, if the option is not “put out” for consideration, it is never discussed! The Laws experiment in Wanganui is proof of that!

    As for South Dunedin, the point made by Syd Adie and others is that “The Flat” has the best bus services in town and, since he made that, the GoldCard ‘free’ pass has come along in off-peak making the city centre even more accessible to senior citizens. The proposal for establishing a library in South Dunedin Library also assumed it would cater for a large number of Waverley, Peninsula and Andersons Bay residents. One look at roading patterns and useage shows that would change if there is a shift to the former CPO.

    That and the fact that the bookbuses would be based there instead of at South Dunedin would lead to the need for the original proposal to be reconsidered and/or re-scaled anyway.

    In my view a library in South Dunedin is not, as some believe, the “magic bullet” to revitalising or redeveloping South Dunedin, especially for retail. Proof of that is the failure of the inside retail area of the Civic Centre.

    The challenge for ‘The Flat’ is much wider than that!

    • Elizabeth

      Richard – most people I know, who think of what a ‘library’ might be for South Dunedin – have a wide view of what a library should be, as an amenity space – and that does not have to be 100% council funding of said ‘library’. Far from it.

      I don’t think the current bus system for South Dunedin is the answer to present or future accessibility.

    • Elizabeth

      Picking up on Richard’s assertion: “In my view a library in South Dunedin is not, as some believe, the “magic bullet” to revitalising or redeveloping South Dunedin, especially for retail. Proof of that is the failure of the inside retail area of the Civic Centre.”

      We have already discussed this Civic Centre area at What if?

      I assert, in reply, again, that the design and layout of the Civic Centre was done by a dog architect with no CLUE AT ALL as to designing successful people-spatial movement realms (public and semi-public) or retail design. You gets what you pay for. Further, subsequent alterations and most of the tenanting has been somewhat problematic, in combination.

      When I first laid eyes on the whole “brand new” disaster I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I wasn’t that old but I’d seen better examples of public thoroughfares and retail clusters everywhere – the finishes, lighting, partitioning and detailing were gross. It instantly read as old boy crap. It was designed by someone who didn’t understand tenanting or psychology or pleasure or contemporary style – but maybe could put a line on paper is all.

      The then council supported it. Hilarious. My parents and I together went into apopleptic shock at the experience. Later I found out the architect’s name. Good grief.

      Richard, your claim on this one is utter balderdash and should be struck out. Sorry. But wake up and smell the roses; you’re travelled and you’ll have seen some amazing places (large and small) to broaden your ‘seeing’ of future possible scenarios in the city, if not the Civic Centre… although Baker Garden might have an uphill battle rehashing for public access and reception. Not holding my breath.

  11. Phil

    I suppose that one advantage is that Mark Garden has actually worked in the building. So might have some appreciation for the inherited problems. Might.

  12. Richard

    I am not certain where you are coming from Elizabeth but what I am saying is not ‘balderdash’.

    Far from it.

    The Civic Centre opened in the early 80s. Robert Tongue and Mark Garden certainly were not around in those days!

    The retail area was premised to appeal on pedestrian flow to the library, the rates payment office and bus ticket sales from the reception booth at the top of the escalators.

    It has never worked as envisaged, apart from the retail spaces at either end. Then there was the story of the lifts, only one went to the basement. The other two lifts deposited passengers in the then DCC Electricity showroom/shop.

    The shops on George Street were more or less premised on who was in the buildings that existed prior to their demolition and the CC being built.

    The interior layout was build and design, I believe to meet the wishes of the department heads and “the pecking order”! Thus the engineers were on the top floor.

    And so on and so on. A lot of shortcuts were taken.

    There have been so many alterations over the years, so many in fact, that I once suggested a permanent sign in the foyer: “Alterations as Usual During Business Hours”.

    The current changes will, at least, provide better public access at ground level for those wishing to transact whatever business they have with council but, in the end, it will be no silk purse. Would convert very well to a hotel though!

    Not that there is any possibility of that!

    • Elizabeth

      I wasn’t inferring that former city architect Robert Tongue or architect Mark Garden were responsible for the original design and subsequent alterations to the Civic Centre’s retail area and public thoroughfare.

      Baker Garden Architects are responsible for the programme of current changes to the Civic Centre building, which includes reconfiguration of Customer Services.

      To raise discussion of the Civic Centre’s retail area in relation to South Dunedin’s quest for a library amenity appeared to me to be bolderdash.

  13. Stu

    In the presence of a “managed retreat” approach to “sea-level rise”, long-term investment in South Dunedin would make no sense.

    • Elizabeth

      Did Progressive Enterprises think of that? We might even have to re-jig the Dunedn City District Plan (2nd, 3rd and 4th generation ad infinitum until we’re drowned), the Otago Coast Plan, and heck, the NZ Building Act.

  14. Phil

    Classic quote of the day award goes to Grant Strang, General Manager in DCC responsible for the Visitors Centre / i-Site.

    When responding to questions surrounding the relocation of the first point of information contact for tourists to the city, Grant replied:

    “The i-Site is harder for people to find”.

    So now the people who come to the city knowing nothing about the city, can now longer find the one place that will tell them about the city.

    Hey, Grant. It’s your department. MOVE THE FRICKIN THING !!!

    • Elizabeth

      Link to story:
      http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/92587/gallery-may-house-i-site-longer

      Plus, Phil – the people tied up with the Community Gallery historically, y’know artists and such, are like in a state of suspended animation. The interim gallery on Moray Place is appalling and DCC doesn’t give a toss. It’s very sad.

      Pleased to see property investor Chris James giving/hiring his ground floor Savoy “corner” premises to folk for exhibitions from time to time lately.

      I’m very surprised that Dunedin City councillors aren’t all over this one, for both i-Site and gallery reasons.

  15. Phil

    And with City Property moving to the Civic Centre, the Octagon frontage of the Municipal Chambers, the showpiece building of the Octagon, will be empty. For at least 12 months or more.

    Move them back, Grant. Move them back.

  16. Phil

    On the subject of CP, I heard a rumour the other day that the department has been instructed to investigate disposing of as many commercial properties as possible. If there’s any truth to that, it’s got to be the most shortsighted approach yet. Way to kill the golden goose.

  17. Phil
    The commercial property sell off rumour, plus the kite flown again by Crs Walls and Collins, to possibly sell off Waipori seem to go hand in hand. Why would anyone want to sell off good investments, like Waipori, that give a $5m return to the DCC and put that money into a bad investment? ie the stadium. What happens when the bad investment goes belly up and we do not even have the solace of a good investment like Waipori- or any others they decide to sell off – to defray increasing council costs, or to reinvest?
    One thing this does tell us is they are obviously getting desperate about the financial situation in Dunedin. It’s not looking good.

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