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Chamber concerned about the GDC blowing its budget

Gisborne District Council must ensure it has measures in place to make sure its budget does not blow out because of the increase in debt levels, Gisborne Chamber of Commerce said in its submission to the long-term plan hearings.

The chamber’s submission, presented by chief executive Terry Sheldrake, said they were in favour of expenditure on key infrastructure and an increase in both debt levels and rates to pay for it.

They supported a lift in roading expenditure, the managed aquifer recharge trial, the DrainWise project, improvements to the wastewater treatment plant and the Waipaoa Flood Control Scheme.

But Mr Sheldrake said that since the consultation document had been released, the council had recommended an increase in debt to $105 million.

“If this is the case, we trust that such spending will have appropriate measures in place to ensure the budget does not blow out any higher.”

The chamber would like to see more council transparency for the business community, with fewer closed meetings.

The chamber supported community boards.

It did not have a problem with rate increases above 2 percent and key infrastructure required significant, well- planned expenditure.

However, it was adamant that expenditure on key infrastructure be managed prudently and efficiently.

“No one minds money being spent on infrastructure, so long as the best long-term options are chosen and installation is well implemented,” said Mr Sheldrake.

The chamber supports an approach to central government for additional funding and is supportive of exploring options such as a regional fuel levy. Comprehensive consultation is required on reasonable community questions of water ownership or water infrastructure ownership.

With the DrainWise project it wants the council to enforce replacement of old wastewater pipes on private land. It also wants criteria to be established, possibly including an amnesty period, so property owners have a set but limited time frame for repairs.

The chamber wants to see higher levels of return from Gisborne Holdings Ltd than the 4 percent in its statement of intent. The council should seek higher levels of return and allow higher GHL debt levels to drive appropriate decision-making by the board, it says.

“Settling for a 4 percent return is not using the ratepayers’ investment in these assets to the best potential.”

It was not unreasonable for chamber members or the wider community to question whether the council organisation itself was “sharing the pain”, as it asked ratepayers to stump up to approve large debt increases, and it should realise that some important projects could not be done without significant or complete grant funding.

The chamber believed the council was not showing it was focused on efficient delivery of services, when its staffing costs were forecast to be $1.2 million over budget this financial year.

“We don’t hear much publicity about efforts in this area.

“If this is also the perception of funders, we feel it could put grant funding at risk.”