Mayor's e-Column - 26/04/2006Securing the future
The most important day for New Zealand, in my opinion, is ANZAC Day. Nothing else compares not Waitangi Day, Queen's Birthday, Labour Day, even Christmas. All, to me, are lesser occasions against the sacrifice of thousands of New Zealanders in too many international conflicts.
ANZAC Day is this country's true national day. It binds us like no other and makes no distinction between races, cultures and creeds. On this special day, we are all New Zealanders.
The Dawn Parade at Wanganui's Cenotaph is always a moving experience. And always different. Last year it was bitterly cold with a southerly scattering the ranks. This year it was mild and still the rain holding off until the ceremony was finished. Last year, the programme was slightly disorganised this year it ran like clockwork, including the flyover.
Chief executive David Warburton and local MP Chester Borrows joined with RSA president Graeme Pleasants and myself in the official mayoral party. It was both a proud and emotional moment to lead the march from the War Memorial Hall to the Cenotaph atop Queens Park. I would estimate that around 3000 people attended with many young children also there surely a record turn-out in recent years.
Councillors Don McGregor, Rangi Wills and Philippa Baker-Hogan also attended and later in the day Deputy Mayor Dot McKinnon led the Maxwell commemorations, Cr McGregor attended Brunswick, and Cr Wills the Maori commemoration at Moutoa. My thanks to them all.
It has been important to me that civic responsibilities are shared amongst all councillors. Each is a leader in their own right.
A Meeting of Mayors
Last Friday, a council delegation traveled to Ohakune to hold the first tripartite meeting between the district councils of Ruapehu, Rangitikei and Wanganui. As a rule, most councils do their own thing but the three respective mayors believe that now is the time to explore a closer association.
Necessarily these meetings are informal but it was very useful to share experiences and sound each other out on matters of mutual interest. It was a very useful and rewarding exercise and the next meeting has been set for late July.
The River Road
One issue we share in common with Ruapehu is the River Road.
It is not much of a highway at present, but it is still a great tourist and heritage drive from Upokongaro up to Jerusalem and then across to Raetihi. Properly constructed and tar-sealed, the River Road has the potential to open up the Whanganui River for visitors and locals alike. I have little doubt it would act as a major spur to tourism in our region.
Wanganui's aim is to utilise the government roading subsidy that is currently available and start widening and sealing the River Road straight away. We have set the monies aside in our LTCCP (long-term council community plan) and I have formally written to Ruapehu suggesting that they do the same.
I think Mayor Sue Morris and her team are sympathetic, and the potential rewards are huge for both councils and districts.
A Unitary Authority?
Given Horizons' excessive rates demand for the 2006/07 financial year, I have decided that it is an opportune time to further research the idea of a unitary authority for Wanganui and, potentially, for our near neighbours.
I have formally written the mayors and chairpersons of all the districts/cities within the Horizons' catchment area, and advised them of our intention to explore the idea. Unitary authorities (an amalgam of regional/local authorities) exist in Marlborough, Tasman, Nelson and Gisborne.
Personally, I think this an idea whose time has well and truly come having a tier of regional government in New Zealand makes for more bureaucracy and greater inefficiency. That said, it is obvious that some amalgamation of territorial authorities is also required, and I have little doubt that if we don't merge in the intermediate future then central government will impose such aggregations upon us.
It is always best to control one's own destiny!
The Splash Centre Time to Move
This Friday, Council meets in an extraordinary meeting to decide the fate and funding of the Splash Centre extension.
On Monday I sat down with the senior management of council to review the research they had conducted. At an initial glance it would appear that the increased operational expenses of an enlarged Splash Centre are easily containable the $800,000 per annum myth-making of some critics proving well wide of the mark.
But the real issue is not the annual expenses or even council's contribution. It is whether we start construction now or delay. Frankly, the latter is the more expensive. In the past year, construction-index inflation has added $900,000 to the original capital cost estimates.
It seems better for Council to meet the funding shortfall of $1.3 million and proceed now. There can be no question that the project has overwhelming public support, that it is critical to the district's sport and recreational needs, and that it will act as a magnet for other sports at Springvale Park.
In discussion with deputy finance chairman Cr Rangi Wills, we both reached the conclusion that Council can afford the additional capital and that we can earmark the revenue from asset sales (land and property) already flagged in the LTCCP to meet the shortfall. We will be jointly co-sponsoring a resolution on Friday to proceed with the project forthwith.
By the estimates of our senior management, the enlarged Splash Centre - with its hydroslides, gym and café would be open for business in the spring of 2007. Next year.
The LTCCP a bit of a yawn?
I attended my first community meeting on the draft LTCCP over the past weekend and it was not a large gathering. That has also been the case with meetings at Fordell and Wanganui East suggesting that either most people are happy with the council's 10 year plan or ... they can't be bothered. Very possibly, both.
There are no real contentious issues enclosed in the draft LTCCP. Rate rises are kept as low as we can make them and are actually the lowest in the country. A lot of other councils have adopted a cost-plus mentality and, little wonder, there is outrage in various cities and districts.
Not all the rate rises can be attributed to local government inefficiency ... but a lot can. It is still a sector ripe for further reform the 'Gliding On' mentality remains pervasive. Less and less in Wanganui, I am bound to say.
Although before we start to beat ourselves up over the size of our council debt, I've had the opportunity to review the draft LTCCPs of other councils that are roughly our size. Hastings' net debt is estimated to peak at $93 million (ours will be $64 million) while Palmerston North's will be $210 million! They will be paying annual interest bills alone of over $18 million. Horrendous.
Wanganui Anniversary Day
And that's been my week. A lot of people have taken the Easter/ANZAC Day period to take annual leave and give themselves a real holiday. I'm sure that they enjoyed it but now, Queen's Birthday excepted, it's the long haul to late October and Labour Weekend.
Which is why we need a Wanganui Anniversary Day popped nicely in the middle! Can't wait.