Hastings Councillors just can’t help themselves. Take yesterday’s meeting of the Finance Committee, where the books were closed on last year’s budget.

Councillors were shown a $1.8 million surplus in last year’s budget ($1.21 million allocated to urban Rating Area One), and what did they do?

Spend most of it.

A handful of Councillors — Bradshaw, Burnside and Wilson — tried to direct the entire surplus back into debt reduction. But they only managed to salvage about $355,000 of the Area One surplus.

Where did the money get spent?

  • $19,000 for rugby clubrooms
  • $161,000 for tidying up capital costs of the Opera House
  • $165,000 for the landfill
  • $59,000 for the HB Cultural Trust

And $451,000 for improvements at Splash Planet!

Councillor Cynthia Bowers led the charge for the spend on Splash Planet, $375,000 of which remains provisional pending a report from Splash Planet managers on how they might spend it. I think they’ll find a way!

That’s not the worst of it. If the Splash Planet spend goes forward, it would be merely a downpayment on a $2.5 million further investment in the water playground, as recommended by HDC’s most recent consultant on the project.

It appears that Councillor Bowers believes Splash Planet, with one last $2.5 million kiss, is finally about to turn from a frog into Prince Charming and begin to return the millions in ratepayer subsidies the park has cost over the past decade. We just needed to be patient … as we will be urged to be with the sports park, if it gets built.

And if she’s really lucky, and Splash Planet begins to generate an operating profit for a year or two, she and a few others can try to run for re-election in 2010 without Simon Nixon, or his successor, clubbing the Mayor and other veteran Councillors over the head with this albatross.

We can all admire an optimist.

Some might feel that all of the above expenditures are worthier than debt reduction. I leave that to the reader.

But the other objectionable aspect of this second bite at the ratepayer apple is … if there are going to be spending allocations, who gets to do the biting?

I’ll bet not many BayBuzz readers knew that $1.8 million might be up for grabs today! If I were one of the budget supplicants who was rejected a few months back during the “real” budget submission process, I’d probably be ticked to discover that Councillor Bowers had somehow pushed Splash Planet to the top of the new pecking biting order.

Indeed, less than three weeks ago, I attended a meeting where advocates seeking some Council funding to help set up a unit to attract domestic and international film projects to Hawke’s Bay were told by Councillor Bowers, in effect … the cupboard is empty, we have a process, you missed the boat, come back next year.

I guess you gotta know someone.

Tom

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1 Comment

  1. As a community we need to severely limit and control the boundaries within which councils (and government) can legitimately operate. The reason taxes and rates grow exponentially is the legitimate spheres of government activity have not been clearly drawn. While I agree that things such as Splash Planet and the new sports arena are bottomless pits, they are merely symptoms of the real infection.

    It keeps coming back to whether we believe governments know best what to do with our money or whether people should have personal freedom and personal responsibility. Sadly, Big Brother mentality is alive and well. Once in power, few politicians, whether national or local, are keen to divest themsalves of that power.

    Sir Roger Douglas and his team are amongst the few pollies who believe in reducing political power. Hopefully, Roger will be the "Comeback Kid" in the up-coming elections.

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