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Councillors row over $200k boat purchase

Gisborne's harbourmaster is getting a boat but not all district councillors are happy about it.

Salvatore “Sonny” Ali has been relying on a jetski borrowed from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council when he needs to be out on the water as reportedly the only harbourmaster in the country without a vessel.

A boat was a fundamental tool for his job, Gisborne District Council chief executive Nedine Thatcher Swann told councillors at Wednesday's finance and performance committee meeting.

It would allow Mr Ali to conduct patrols, enforce maritime rules and keep tabs on navigational hazards.

Councillors agreed in February to the $200,000 purchase of a boat and trailer, subject to approving how much it would cost to run the vessel.

The running costs, calculated at $8000 to $9000 a year, were presented to councillors at Wednesday's meeting.

But rather than debate the costs, the discussion centred on whether the boat itself was necessary.

Councillor Shannon Dowsing said the biggest water safety issue was people swimming in the harbour, and that could be dealt with from the wharf.

Checking that people had enough lifejackets on their vessels was also something that could be done from the shore before they headed out on the water, Cr Dowsing said.

Chasing down boats going faster than five knots in the harbour was not the biggest safety risk, he said.

“I think it's a very poor use of council money to be purchasing a boat and spending it on these operating costs.”

Councillor Larry Foster agreed, saying that of all the people in the boating community he had spoken to, not one supported the purchase, based on their understanding of the harbourmaster's role.

But Mayor Rehette Stoltz said: “We are not relitigating the whole issue.”

Ms Thatcher Swann said the matter before councillors was the operating costs, “so that is the discussion that should be had, rather than the role of the harbourmaster and its functions or otherwise”.

Cr Dowsing argued that the council could forgo the purchase by not agreeing to the operating costs, as the decision to fund the purchase had been subject to approval of the costs.

Cr Foster said in a post-Covid world the council would need to tighten its belt and the boat purchase could be the first casualty.

The operating costs were calculated on the basis of Mr Ali being in sole charge of the boat but Councillor Terry Sheldrake said he would “seriously debate” it was possible to launch and safely operate a 6.5-metre vessel without an extra pair of hands.

Councillor Kerry Worsnop wanted to know whether the council would be able to retain a harbourmaster without a boat. Ms Thatcher Swann said there was a risk it would not.

Councillor Andy Cranston said the discussion in February had made it clear the harbourmaster could not fully carry out his role without a boat and that made it a health and safety issue.

Mayor Stoltz agreed. The council had a qualified, experienced harbourmaster and she felt his advice on the need for a boat should be listened to.

The boat purchase will go ahead after the operating costs were approved, although councillors Dowsing, Foster and Sheldrake voted against them.

  1. Mike Beale says:

    Surely there are more councillors than Dowsing, Foster and Sheldrake who can see that this is one of the craziest things the council has ever come up with. Talk about a total waste of ratepayers’ money when things are only going to get worse for the ratepayers of Gisborne. If the harbourmaster can’t do his job without a boat, what the hell has he been doing all this time? Mayor Stoltz, you need to step up and squash this hair-brained idea in the bud. Come on Gisborne ratepayers, speak up about this and don’t let the council waste your money.

  2. Gordon Webb says:

    The challenge now will be for the councillors to direct management into buying local.