Who says the Hastings Council isn’t fast off the mark?!
Only yesterday, rugby player (and closet economist) Ritchie McCaw was quoted in the media that the rebuild in Christchurch “won’t take long.”
Facing a tough sell for his “let’s keep spending” HDC budget for 2011-2012, Council CEO Ross McLeod spotted what he termed “a golden opportunity” and jumped on it.
In an exclusive interview with BayBuzz, Mr McLeod said: “I’m sick and tired of all these doomsday economists coming up with dire predictions about the Hawke’s Bay economy. Like our region having the worst job loss in all of New Zealand. Hey, these unemployed people still live in houses, don’t they? So they can pay rates with their benefits. And all those fixed income retired folks should have been saving for a rainy day all along.”
BayBuzz moved him back to the hiring of McCaw.
“Yes,” said Mr McLeod, “I saw Richie’s quote and said to Lawrence (Mayor Yule), that guy could save our skin … he has the mana. He’s obviously an optimist. He could sell anything … even our budget. We need to move fast … every council will be after him. So we called and made him an offer. He said he was thinking about his post-rugby future and economic consulting appealed to him. And voila, the marriage was made.”
BayBuzz asked when McCaw would be starting.
“He’s an Action Man … immediately,” replied Mr McLeod. “In fact, overnight he produced a paper for us analyzing the impact of a lingering recession, fuel prices through the roof, and the re-prioritising of central government funds on our District’s ability to grow its budget meet pressing community needs. We’re presenting it to Council on Friday. It’s titled “Not to Worry!” That should shut up Bradshaw and Nixon, with all their whinging about the ‘economic big picture’.”
What’s the back story on this new hire?
As usual, next year’s Hastings Council budget (and this will be true for Napier and the Regional Council as well), will simply represent everything the Council did this current year, plus an inflation adjustment, plus whatever extra spending the Councillors believe ratepayers will swallow over and above all that.
That’s the local government budgeting paradigm, and it’s set in concrete … beyond the destructive capability even of liquefaction.
What Council staff will never present to Councillors — and frankly, what nine out of ten Councillors will never ask for — is a budget that assumes NO growth. You know, the kind that businesses face when the economy sucks.
The assumption is simply that ratepayers will dig deeper and pay more … it’s in the natural order of things, like lions eating gazelles.
Councillors and ratepayers will be told that ‘of course’ the staff started fresh and built their ‘new’ budgets from the bottom up. They just magically happen to total up to the same number of staff (or more … a very difficult number to pin down in council budgets) and the same level of spending, plus inflation and a bit of icing, of course.
And if challenged, their response is … making actual reductions would mean changing (i.e., reducing) community outcomes. And what would your constituents think about that? That’s the ultimate scare tactic … and it works on most Councillors, especially the Newbies, who mostly observe the process with glazed eyes.
This is the practice in the best of times. And today, as our HB councils begin their budget drafting, we see that it continues on auto-pilot in the worst of times. But “not to worry” says HDC’s new economic consultant, your ratepayers are far more resilient than the doomsayers make them out to be.
Aren’t you relieved?