Full Council Meeting (19 February)

Yes, another full council meeting. This one focused on the annual plan. All councillors were in attendance other than Crs Bouillir and Mirfin.

The meeting agenda comprised: (1) the mayors trip to china, and (2) the annual plan budget and projects for solid waste, storm water, wastewater, transportation, community development and facilities, tourism funding, rates remission policies, and general charges.

The Mayor’s Trip to China

Council were asked to approve financial support of approximately $8,000 for the Mayor’s travel (and associated costs) for a 10 day (10-20 April 2014) business trip to China with a delegation led by the Chief Executive of the Economic Development Agency (EDA), Bill Findlater. The $8,000 being made up of $3,500 return airfares plus $4,500 to $5,000 for accommodation and incidental costs. The aim of the trip being to strengthen business relationships and promote Tasman products to the chinese market.

According to the staff report (see agenda link below), Bill Findlater had asked the Mayor to join the delegation [page 6 at [4.6]). It was noted in this report that the role of Mayor was held in high esteem in China and the Mayor’s presence would help the delegation. It was also stated by the Mayor that he had been invited by the Chinese embassy to visit China. How that invitation came about was not fully explained. On further enquiry it materialised that the delegation only comprised two businesses (one being the Nelson Polytechnic (NMIT)) and would not be accompanied by the Nelson Mayor.

I opposed any ratepayer funding of this trip.

In my mind, regardless of the Chinese embassy’s invitation, the delegation was to small to justify the expenditure. If the business participant’s sought an advantage from the Mayor’s presence, they should have been willing to pay for that presence.  If they were not, then clearly the trip was not justified. I noted that some councillors had made similar arguments in relation to not funding Nelson-Tasman tourism (ie, that tourism businesses should fund their own promotion). Given the delegation of businesses was a far smaller group of businesses, than those that benefited from wider tourism funding, I found it surprising that those same councillors would support spending $8,000 promoting only two businesses (leaving aside the fact one of the businesses was a Nelson based business). Given other councils had found that such business trips to China require repeat visits for any degree of success, and are highly dependent on follow up activities from council staff (which would not be provided by TDC), there seemed very little prudence in funding such a trip, that was unlikely to be successful or provide immediate and direct benefits for Tasman.

Unfortunately, I was a lone voice of dissent. However, I do wish the Mayor well on his trip to China, and look forward to learning of the financial benefit delegates have obtained, that will offset Tasman ratepayer investment.

Annual Plan

Council were also asked to formally pass a number of resolutions that would enable the formal release of the draft annual plan. This is the budgeted income and expenditure of council for the 2014-15 year. What was passed by council appears in the draft annual plan that the public will be able to make submissions on. This is also an opportunity for the public to make suggestions for making further cost savings that will result in reducing rates. Equally, any suggestions for putting expenditure back into the plan, will result in rates going up.

Workshop discussions held earlier in the month had resolved much of the debate around where expenditure should be (hence the lack of discussion around many of the proposed resolutions), although there still remained a degree of disagreement on a number of spending issues. In particular, the Golden Bay recreational facility. I have discussed the merits of this facility in earlier posts, so will not re-litigate my reasons for opposing further funding of recreational facilities. Needless to say, it is a debate about priorities (infrastructure over nice to haves) and debt (keeping debt down as interest rate rises eat into rates income).

Unlike other years, the council has approached the 2014 plan on the basis of a proposed fiscal envelope (ie how much did we want to spend, and what was the level of rates increase we wanted to operate within). In my opinion a target of 2.0 to 2.5% should have been the preferred target for 2014.  However, a target of 2.0 to 2.5% is still achievable with further cuts. Some cuts are achievable in this draft budget\plan. For example, do we need the Mud&Roses publication? Do we need a Newsline of more than 2 pages long? Should the staff budget be tightened in order to drive organisational efficiencies? Are there road work projects we should not be doing?

With further reductions over the forthcoming years (and holding rates increases down below the rate of inflation) we can begin to make some headway towards rates parity with Nelson. At present our total rates bill is nearly twice that of Nelson. If you have ideas for expenditure cuts, make sure you make a submission on this draft plan. Give councillors the confidence to make further cuts.

Agenda and minutes

The agenda an minutes for this meeting can be found at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/full-council-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/FullCouncil/2014/2014-02-19

Note! The draft annual plan has been released. For information on the plan and making a submission see http://www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/public-consultation/draft-annual-plan-2014-2015-and-draft-rates-policies-submissions/.

A summary of the draft annual plan is provided in Newsline at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/media-centre/news/latest-newsline/.

See also http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/9828399/Tasman-rates-to-rise-up-to-3-5pc.

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