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Funding issues?for council need to be bridged

Opinion Piece

There was a dark undertone of warning for ratepayers in the two main debates at this week’s District Council Future Tairawhiti committee meeting, where stormy debates ensued on sending out concept plans for the Turanganui River Bridge and approving preliminary designs for the earthquake repairs and upgrade of Lawson Field Theatre.

The council is being asked to underwrite the theatre project, while Eastland Community Trust will be the official funder for the bridge. The War Memorial Theatre Trust has taken on the task of raising just over $1 million for the theatre work.

During the debates there were frequent comments that the council already faced a long list of major projects including the Waipaoa River Flood Control Scheme and the DrainWise project which has the ultimate goal of stopping detested wastewater overflows into the city rivers.

Councillors were obviously uneasy about any more financial impacts, with Graeme Thomson going so far as to say the council was facing close to a $100m hole in its 10-year budget, and planned annual rate increases of 2 to 3 percent were more likely to be up to 6 percent.

A meeting the council is having with ECT next month has extra significance.

There are signs the councillors would like to get more funding for key council projects from the trust, which Mr Thomson described as “our principal funder”. ECT, on the other hand, has stuck with a policy that its funds should not be used for core council infrastructure.

An interesting aspect of the bridge concept release for public comment is that it will probably attract significant opposition.

Councillor Shannon Dowsing described it as a “bridge to nowhere” and said there was pushback to it and to cycleway spending. In fact, public feedback on cycle and walkways has been overwhelmingly positive — but he is right with regard to grumbles about the bridge.

The council and ECT have a challenge ahead to bring the community with them on this project. The fact ECT is the official funder will have to be stressed in the public consultation process.