Calvin Oaten does it again!

### ODT Online Mon, 19 Jul 2010
Opinion: Debt accounting deception
Calvin Oaten has been sifting through the DCC’s accounts and finds nothing but dismay. “No wonder Dunedin’s rates are so high.” The avalanche of demands on the local public purse is staggering. Combine that with the seemingly inevitable growing weight of council bureaucracy and the internal pressures that brings, and the city has a recipe for both increasing rates and increasing debt.
Read more

See related comments posted yesterday at DCC: Residents’ Opinion Survey

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The future for the whole of Dunedin City will involve the retirement of debt in ways we’ll probably find unpalatable. Some of us will be dead and in the ground by then.

Post by Elizabeth Kerr

29 Comments

Filed under Stadiums

29 responses to “Calvin Oaten does it again!

  1. Russell Garbutt

    Imagine what you would get if you asked the likes of Cr Acklin, Cr Collins, Cr Guest et al to explain the financial manouverings of the DCC!!

    But I’m sure there will be lots of opportunities in candidate’s meetings to do just that. My picking is that there will be little crib sheets supplied to this sort of candidate so they know what to say. I wonder who will write them?

  2. kate

    I wonder who will be offered them!

    But Russell you should be aware that staff are not allowed to be involved in campaigns and the CEO is very clear about that. (I presume that extends to CST Trustees and staff too)

  3. Russell Garbutt

    Ah Kate, if only I really believed that some Councillors would not get “assistance” in having some things explained to them by either staff or other friendly Councillors……and of course the CST Trustees belong to a private Trust who “couldn’t possibly comment”. Yeah, right.

    As for staff not being involved in campaigns – when does this rule start?

  4. kate

    That rule has been around for a long time and from my experience staff are very careful to ensure it is upheld.

  5. Peter

    Harland ‘neutral’? Not what I have heard. All to be revealed.

  6. Russell Garbutt

    Kate, I actually meant at what time does a request for information or guidance from staff to a Councillor stop being information or guidance to assist in fulfilling the role as a Councillor, and become assistance or information designed to assist with an election process.

    For example, it may be that some Councillors who are not comfortable in discussing City debt or why some actions were taken may seek information from staff. What differentiates that information from being used as part of an election process?

  7. kate

    Interesting question – I will seek advice:-)

  8. Russell Garbutt

    A supplementary question could well be what individual or “interested group” briefings or information from, say, the CST, to Councillors would constitute providing guidance or assistance to those Councillors in their election programme?

    I’m sure that there is something that differentiates “lobbying” from ensuring that “helpful” information is supplied to Councillors who are seen as “useful” to a cause for example. How do we know that this hasn’t happened or will not happen?

  9. Anonymous

    I thought the hard and fast rule in the governance setup which the DCC has was that Councillors were not permitted to request advice or ask staff to engage in any activity without approval from the Chief Executive? Or does that explain the Harland comment above?

  10. Calvin Oaten

    Having just laboriously read the DCC: Residents’ Opinion Survey, I would have to say that I have never before read 108 pages of so much inconsequential trivia in my life.
    The only factor which comes through with any significant relevance is the fact that an overwhelming number of respondents are either extremely satisfied or well satisfied with our recycling/ rubbish collection. Yet this is the one service that they are hell bent on changing at increased cost to the citizens.
    This whole business of conducting expensive, time consuming surveys, proves nothing except just how insecure in their own space these people are. It is the same with the ‘branding’ exercise. We know where the city is, what it consists of, why we live here, and what we expect. It is simply for the bureaucracy to just do its job in providing the services, facilities and infrastructure at the lowest possible cost and let us get on with it.
    The latest programme, ‘where do we want the city in the future, and what should we start planning now?’ Why can’t we just let the city evolve by a process of natural evolution. It will happen as needs must, and subject to the basic rules of engagement will happen. Why these bureaucratic meddlers can’t just get the hell out of the way and let it happen mystifies me. History shows that this is how all great cities grew, and are growing. All that is required is the right demographics, the right geography, and, most of all the right economy. What the meddlers do is deny the geography, try to force the demographics and as a result stuff up the economy. Result, all their plans go down the pan, which is the best place for them. Try tell that to this lot in city hall. Shock, horror, the anti brigade again! Meanwhile we go broke and run the real risk of losing what we have, never mind what we might have had.

  11. Russell Garbutt

    Anonymous – the problems start arising when the CEO crosses the line as much as the Councillors crossing the line.

    Harland has shown very strong beliefs in a number of “initiatives” and Harbourside and the new stadium are just two. Harbourside was identified as being a Harland initiative and he was prominent throughout. He was also personally involved in the whole stadium issue through his membership of the original working party right through to him signing off the cheques. Farry is another common thread.

    CEO’s have a lot of time per week to be concentrating on trying to get information lined up to present to Councils in such a way that only one course of action is the “right one” to be followed. Call it massaging, call it what you will, but it happens.

    Also happening are discussions or conversations between staff and Councillors. They happen regularly and in the right context and for the right reasons, I’m sure they are of mutual benefit.

    My concern is that a significant number of existing Councillors who are seeking re-election as governance people don’t have the nous to understand what has happened and is happening round them. They now have to face voters who may know a lot more than they do and I’m sure that they will be asking for, or being provided with, information or strategies to support the “culture” of the staff. This can be provided – because of the significant number of informal interchanges that occur – on such an “informal” basis.

  12. janet

    “Harbourside was identified as a Harland initiative and he was prominent throughout” yes that’s correct but unfortunately not left in the past tense. Harland still believes that development on the harbourside – residential development, cafes etc is compatible with industry in spite of strong evidence to the contrary about reverse sensitivity issues. He also believes the development he wants is compatible with an oil supply base on harbourside. I await the result of Cr Weatherall’s liaising with the affected parties.

    • Elizabeth

      Hi Janet – yesterday I noted Mr Harland made only brief mention of the harbourside project at the Forum. The impression I got from this and possibly his body language was that he is totally sold on the merits of his own idea for harbourside and nothing appears to have dented him – not even Environment Court mediation. I suppose he has to be “resolved” to push his scheme ahead… A lot’s at stake – I mean for the harbourside’s existing businesses, not for the Chief Executive since he seems far removed from reality on what sustainable / strategic portside business development should be for Dunedin.

      All the Dunedin people ever truly wanted was to regain direct public access to the harbour edge, by reinstatement of the level crossing at Rattray/Fryatt Sts. If Jim Harland could put his mind to that small incremental change which involves national-level project management and governmental intervention then I would be happy.

      But then I would want at least one historic wharfshed adapted for contemporary commercial and public use close to the former Custom House, being – of course – part of the necessary sea wall and wharf upgrade to meet code compliance for continued use (whether we like it or not as a cost exercise).

  13. JimmyJones

    Some questions that every councillor should be ready to answer are –

    – for the FB Stadium, what do you expect the yearly operating loss to be. Note that the operating loss is much larger and a totally different thing to the claimed $66/year construction funding. The DCC has never provided an estimated Net Profit/Loss for their multi-purpose monstrosity. The confusion between the construction funding and the operating funding seems to have worked well for them, so far.

    – what is the maximum yearly operating loss you are prepared to tolerate before sending in the bulldozers

    – what do you expect the total capital cost of the stadium to be, including everything

    – in the likely case of a cost overrun, what is the maximum extra funding you are prepared to spend

    The forecast total cost and yearly operating loss should have been revealed at the time of the public consultation, but weren’t. Athol Stephens has this information and the DCC should make it public for the prospective councillors and all of us.

  14. Peter

    Excellent summary of questions, Jimmy Jones, that councillors should have some idea about, and answer, come the election. I get the very strong feeling that there are going to be too many councillors/candidates who will try to avoid answering these questions. They are too challenging. They cause discomfort. They will want to smooth things over because they want to basically carry on with the stadium spend up. It is a case of throwing good money after bad. It’s like going to the casino. You have put so much money into the ‘one arm bandit’, it’s hard to pull away. So you put more money in – even though you can’t afford it – and hope like hell you get at least some money back. These kind of people are losers in every sense of the word.

  15. JimmyJones

    Yes Peter, they are losers, but they are using our money. I would be surprised if any official figures are released before the election, but I think the questions should be asked anyway. To abandon the stadium because of unsustainable yearly losses would be a huge embarrassment for Mayor Chin and his group of big spenders. As you say, the temptation is to keep feeding in the money even though logic tells us to stop.

  16. Russell Garbutt

    A few years ago, a visiting Business Professor from the UK gave a public talk about projects that were grandiose, were supposed to rejuvinate economies, were limited in costs and unlimited in community or social benefits. The overwhelming analysis of these projects were that the benefits were minimal, the costs inevitably over-ran by enormous amounts, and equally inevitably, continued. His point was that at a certain stage, it made sense to pull the plug, but the proponents of the projects had a tendency to obscure facts to ensure that the project continued to completion.

    He had a whole list of well-known projects that fitted into this category and we can now add the new rugby stadium.

  17. Peter

    It all goes to show how deeply flawed human beings can be. It’s not as if, from reading literature elsewhere, ‘visionary’ projects like stadia are fail- safe ‘goers’. We cannot claim ignorance – except for our councillors – who were too dumb to think for themselves and bought Farry’s line that we ‘can do it better in the South’.

    • Elizabeth

      ### ODT Online Fri, 30/07/2010 – 10:07am.
      Comment by MikeStk on More proof Calvin’s correct
      An upcoming report to the council’s Finance committee (the one chaired by Mr Walls himself) contains, on the last page, a graphic that provides an excellent illustration of Calvin’s contention of the need for an upcoming 18% rates rise. The projected rise of the debt servicing costs between 2010 and 2016 will require that the city raises an extra $20m a year – that’s about 20% of the city’s $98m rates take and so the debt will require a 20% rates rise to service. Sadly, there’s probably little we can do about this. The council’s overspending has already been done – all we can do is vote them out so that it doesn’t happen again.

      ****

      ### ODT Online Fri, 30/07/2010 – 11:11am.
      Comment by Calvin Oaten on Graphic denial
      It is interesting to note in the debt servicing graphic to be presented to the Finance & Strategy committee – as depicted by Mikestk in ‘More proof Calvin’s correct’ – that, for instance, it shows the interest to be paid in 2010 at some $10.956m. What it doesn’t show is the $12.262ml not being paid, but capitalised. Will the F & S committee be informed of this?

      ****

      Related Post:
      ‘Devious or incompetent’ – hard to tell if the books are closed

  18. Elizabeth

    ### ODT Monday 9 August 2010 (page 8)
    Letters to the editor
    Ratepayers the rock for council debt
    By Ian Pillans, Dunedin
    Calvin Oaten is one of the few constructive critics of Dunedin City Council expenditure and the personal attack by Richard Walls (ODT, 29.7.10) is a sadly typical response to anyone having the temerity to voice an adverse opinion…. The simple truth is that this council is recklessly spendthrift and the city’s finances depend on continued borrowing against its assets…. Its access to funds is not, as Cr Walls suggests, the result of a respected record of loan repayment but solely because it can borrow to dangerous levels on the personal guarantees of its ratepayers….

    The full letter is available in print and digital editions of the Otago Daily Times.

  19. Peter

    Great letter from Ian Pillans in support of Calvin – especially from a man of his background who knows what he is talking about. We need more Ian Pillans’ out there in the business and professional communities to speak out. We can no longer rely on the media to do this. World- wide, real investigative journalism has largely turned to mush, but the recent development of something gutsy, like Wikileaks, gives us hope.

  20. johnson

    I too have read the ROS, and came to the same conclusion, it means very little. Purely for the most statistical significant item was the “average” age or respondents, 55 (doesn’t indicate mean or median). This alone makes the results unreliable and at best, not worth the paper they are written on. Unless of course this is the average age of people in Dunedin?

    • Elizabeth

      johnson/Johnson – suggest the Residents Opinion Survey (ROS) is a snapshot as the Chief Executive might say. Age is no obstacle, life experience is valuable. We all know that. I’m glad people participated in the survey, good on them. They’re not happy in some respects and are happy in others. Interesting where their dissatisfaction is indicated. The ROS got a reaction from the DCC hierarchy, “trendy” was a word used. Good to know Dunedinites are up with the play.

  21. johnson

    I agree, but it’s a snapshot of, from what I read, 1000 or so people of an average age 55 with low incomes. Hardly representative of the voting public. I too am glad people took the time to participate, but its pretty clear from the demographic, that it was people with ‘time on their hands’ that did participate. So, yes, it was worthless no matter what the result or what DCC says.

  22. kate

    Johnson do we worry about the citizens or the voting public? The voting public is a very small group of less than 50%. Councillors actually need to be concerned about the needs of all residents and ratepayers. Actually I think the ROS is probably more representative of the voting public but not the residents and ratepayers!

  23. wirehunt

    It’s time the council pulled their heads out of their aRses and realised they are spending WAY above our means.

    This is out of control.

    Speaking to someone that is about to start work on the town hall or whatever it is getting done up. The design calls for a stainless steel UB beam. Why not just go for the gold one instead?

    Spending like this is not needed, hell I doubt that queenies place has one of them. But we will.
    We don’t even go to expenses like that in dairy factories where you could sort of justify it. In fact I’ll wager this is the only stainless beam in use in the south island, all so council can say “that’s pretty”.

    This is not good enough. It’s time that the spending on bullshit was taken in hand.

  24. Johnson

    As classy a response as always Wirehunt.

  25. Elizabeth

    I understand the stainless beam also does other work, was it taking pipes or stormwater direct…I forget, haven’t seen the detailed plans.

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