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Does anyone want to pay 9.2% more?

by Lindsay Shelton
Mayor Andy Foster did the right thing to postpone today’s city council committee meeting where councillors were to be asked to approve a rates increase of 9.2 per cent. But though the meeting has been put back by two weeks – with covid-19 given as the reason – councillors will undoubtedly be discussing the rates increase today, but they’ll be away from public scrutiny in a closed workshop.

I haven’t seen anyone welcoming the idea of a 9.2 per cent increase in rates. But the mayor has been trying to defend it. His statement reminds us that the proposed increase is almost twice as much as the council has usually imposed:

“Usually we are able to deliver our day-to-day services with a 3 to 5 percent rates rise that takes into account depreciation and inflation. However this year, a revaluation of our core infrastructure has seen them increase in value, which has resulted in an increase in the depreciation costs that need to be funded from rates.”

Faced with such an increase, many people are pointing to what they see as wasteful council spending – everyone pointing to the $200m convention centre, which the council wants us to believe is unstoppable.

Many people have suggested the building could have a better use – the ground level could house the Central Library, and the upper floors could be a new home for the council itself. Everyone knows that the Central Library attracted a million visitors a year, whereas a convention centre won’t have a hope of being used by even a tenth of that number – specially at a time where large gatherings are less and less popular, and video conferencing is accepted as a cheaper and more efficient way of bringing people together.

Announcing the proposed rates increase, the mayor reckoned that a third of it is for “resilience related projects,” which he summarises as water infrastructure, Civic Square (now referred to as Te Ngākau Civic Precinct) and the Central Library – a curious grouping.

He also said there was an option for a 7.9 percent rates increase, “but that would not address the additional infrastructure and planning that is required.”

On Wednesday next week, the council will be discussing some of these matters for a second time – most notably the fate of the Central Library. A report promised for February has turned up only this week, but the council is holding it back – with councillors being given a “pre-briefing” from where much vagueness and uncertainty was reported:

Options for strengthening and redeveloping the Central Library range from $96 million to $205 million (for a highly resilient scheme). In addition to the structural work, the figures include building services and fit out upgrades that are required. Costs for a new build were also provided for the sake of comparison and context, and these cost comparisons were based on a highly-resilient build option – ones that would survive an earthquake and still be operable.

What are they implying? Do they want us to think that a strengthened Library building wouldn’t survive an earthquake?

The “pre-briefing” is to be published on the council website tomorrow. Perhaps it’ll make more sense when all the details are provided.

Let’s give the last word(s) on the 9.2 per cent increase to Justin Lester, via twitter.

The proposed hike has little to do with the pipes issues at the moment. Wellington has fully depreciated infrastructure costs and funded renewals for a long time, which ratepayers have paid for. The 2016 earthquake will have played a role though too, more than originally expected

and

The proposed rates increase is a real disappointment. There was a promise to reduce rates and yet this is the highest increase in decades. One has to be prepared to make some hard and sometimes unpopular calls and, most importantly, bring ideas and leadership to the table.

March 24: Waikato aiming for zero rates increase

18 comments:

  1. Paul, 19. March 2020, 9:10

    I would have thought this a simple decision – Stop the unnecessary spending.
    A new convention center is nice, but not necessary!

     
  2. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 19. March 2020, 9:43

    Two things I’d be calling for today if still on the City Council:

    An urgent report outlining whether or not it is feasible to equip the new convention centre as the city library and/or Council HQ, to function either temporarily as soon as it’s finished, or permanently. (And yes, if that’s not feasible, the costs & benefits of mothballing the site.) Council needs to be flexible.

    A 10% cut in Mayor & councillors’ salaries and CEO & directors’ salaries, initially for the next six months. Council needs to be empathetic.

     
  3. N.D., 19. March 2020, 9:50

    Introduce water meters which reduce water use by around a quarter, saving on water supply and outflow. Stop all this living wage stuff. Let contractors determine what they pay staff, according to Central Government dictates. I want to pay a living rates bill!

     
  4. michael, 19. March 2020, 12:46

    First: Start treating ratepayers with respect and less like idiots
    Second: Cut back on ALL unnecessary spending like $200 million for a convention centre. Huge salaries, consultants, publications and personal expenses etc. Get back to basics.
    Third: Just strengthen the library as is and forget all the other secret plans for it.

    If I have to listen to anything again about rising seas and the library I will scream, when the WCC is very happy to allow the Shelley Bay development to go ahead next to the sea. Once this virus has passed, the public are going to need their central meeting place back again.

     
  5. Benny, 19. March 2020, 12:58

    I find Justin Lester’s comment a bit hard to swallow – he was a champion of debt increase, rates hikes, and a massive proponent of the Convention Centre. But I do find his argument rather solid (that Wellington has fully depreciated infrastructure costs … which ratepayers have paid for). Andy Foster was elected, amongst other things, on the promise that thee rates would be kept under control, so a 9.2% increase, if approved, will be equally hard to swallow.
    As for the Convention Centre, it made little sense at the time. Now, it’s even more irrelevant.

     
  6. Henry Filth, 19. March 2020, 13:29

    More money for cycleways. They will be desperately needed as people abandon public transport for fear of disease.

     
  7. Don M, 19. March 2020, 14:05

    What we really need is the airport extension, and then much larger aircraft can bring in all those conference attendees to fill up the Convention Centre. Oh, wait…

     
  8. Dave, 19. March 2020, 17:25

    Now the council buildings need rebuilding, it’s time to have one council over the whole region maybe based in Porirua where there’s land that’s safer for long term building ,The water and sewage system needs to be nationalised again, to bring some standards – councils can’t afford to sort out years of short term thinking,

     
  9. Traveller, 19. March 2020, 17:42

    It seems so obvious. To reduce the pressure on city council spending, either put construction of the convention centre on hold (surely Willis Bond would agree to this, for the good of the city?), or repurpose its spaces for a new central library and council offices.

     
  10. Northland, 19. March 2020, 17:57

    Less red tape. Less bureaucracy. Less endless consultations that waste time and money and don’t provide any better outcomes. More in-housing and retention of key skills and knowledge.

     
  11. Andrew, 19. March 2020, 18:30

    Turning the Convention Centre into the central library is a solution looking for a problem: we’ve got this stupid building nobody wants – let’s turn it into a library (in 4 years after it’s finished) as opposed to a problem looking for a solution: if the library is broken – fix it.

     
  12. N.D., 20. March 2020, 7:36

    Andrew’s right – fix up the Library so its less of an earthquake risk and let’s be reasonable by finding a positive engineer. There’s no guarantee the Convention Centre will be earthquake proof given the performance of several of Wellington’s newest buildings and there is also the fire risk (Sky City). Why have two risky buildings rather than one?

     
  13. Casey, 20. March 2020, 10:09

    N.D.: If the WCC took the sensible and realistic approach you suggest, then yes fix the library. However to cover themselves, the councillors with no engineering or commercial experience may opt for the most expensive option. $100 – $200 million cannot be justified to spend on this structure.

    Cutting the ratepayers’ losses and repurposing the convention centre, a building few wanted and which will become a white elephant, would make the best of a bad situation.

    The economic impact of this current crisis will be severe, so much so that all spending on nice-to-haves should be curtailed immediately, with only infrastructure essential to our health and wellbeing considered a priority. Fix the sewers first WCC.

     
  14. michael, 20. March 2020, 10:29

    N.D. Over a year ago, at a huge public meeting, Wellington seismic engineer Adam Thornton, who has been fixing floors in Wellington with the same problem as the library, explained how the library could be fixed relatively quickly, and for a lot less than the council’s scaremongering tactics. However, the council ignored this in preference for a consultation group led by an Auckland Professor. It seems that the council have ulterior plans for the library and they are not on the same page as Wellingtonians. We just want our library back as is.

     
  15. George, 21. March 2020, 23:01

    In the current climate, fixing the library should not even be on the agenda. Libraries are going to be closed for the foreseeable future. The white elephant conference centre needs to be moth balled, it was always going to be a financial disaster. With hundreds if not thousands of people potentially losing their income, we are looking at a 9.7 % rates increase!

     
  16. Traveller, 24. March 2020, 9:42

    What has the council decided about the rates increase? It’s had several meetings but hasn’t told us anything.

     
  17. Dave Armstrong, 24. March 2020, 9:45

    Given that construction has started on the convention centre, it’s probably too late to put a halt to it. One of the most sensible ideas I have heard recently, via the Wellington.Scoop website, is that if it is found to be too expensive to strengthen the current central library then turn the bottom space of the Convention Centre into a public library. What would we call it? Why not name it after every mayor and councillor who voted to build the damn thing – a monument of shame to remind us that serving ratepayers should always take precedence over hobnobbing with celebrities and chasing the tourist dollar.

     
  18. BHS, 24. March 2020, 10:37

    Work will stop on the Convention Centre in a days time so just don’t start again in a month. Leave it as a building site – a monument to the inglorious age of big conventions for VIPs.

     

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