Would you rather spend $21 million on a velodrome, or $5.7 million on refurbishing four of Hastings District’s sub-standard swimming pools, or $20 million on fixing the four pools and adding a new District Aquatics Centre?
Now, that would be a sensible choice of priorities to put before Hastings ratepayers, especially in tough economic times.
But in the constant shell game that passes for Hastings Council financial stewardship, we will never see that kind of question posed. Instead, each new project on the shopping list is leaked out over time, with the cost of each one always shifting, and each one separately costing — supposedly — only a handful of dollars per day or week or year.
For example, last February, the Regional Sports Park Trust issued a press release in which Trust member Rex Graham gushed that the fully developed RSP, including velodrome, would cost ratepayers only $0.60 per week (my math says that’s $31 per year). However, this February, according to Hastings Councillor Cynthia Bowers, the cost — with a velodrome $5 million more expensive than last year — is only $14 per year to the average ratepayer. Which is it? Who’s credible? This has been the story all along with sports park financial estimates and claims … they shift constantly.
There has always been an issue with the accuracy — some would say the deceptiveness — of various renditions of sports park funding. HDC and the Sports Park Trust have always hidden their funding ‘commitments’ behind a curtain of ‘sensitive negotiations underway’. But whenever the fundraising numbers have needed to be summed up for public propaganda purposes, they seem to go down.
Even the status of funding from other local bodies is presented with remarkable ingenuity. $2.5 million for the velodrome from the Regional Council is treated as if it fell from the sky, instead of being lifted from ratepayers’ wallets.
Napier City Council takes the prize for most ‘ingenuity’ regarding its phantom $1 million commitment to the project.
Various Napier officials claim that $1 million was set aside in 2009 when the city’s Long Term Plan (then, LTCCP) was adopted. But under no reading of that plan would any ratepayer conceivably realize that such a sum was being ‘reserved’ for the ‘regional sports park’ or its ‘velodrome’. Those terms never appear … or are even implied.
Even a careful reader of Council budgets like myself was forced to press Mayor Arnott directly on the issue at the time. This was her response, which BayBuzz reported on March 25, 2009:
“Asked if there was any money in the proposed LTCCP specifically assigned to the “regional” sports park, Mayor Arnott replied: “No. No.”
Then she expanded. “There will be money in the plan for sport facilities. Park Island has a catchment of about 40 hectares that we can expand into. We just told the rugby league we’ll commit to supporting them and giving them a home at Park Island, and that will cost something. We can help them grow the sport and give them some stability.” Then she mentioned tennis facilities in Taradale and continued: “So if there’s funding in there for sport facilities, it will be for facilities like that … We’re quite proud of our sport facilities and we keep putting money in them because they are well-used.”
I badgered Mayor Arnott about the sizeable funding for the sports park requested from Napier by Mayor Yule and Sam Kelt. She acknowledged: “We’re having a meeting with the sports park people next week and I’ll be interested to hear what they have to say to me.”
Then she continued: “There’s no way this city will be putting in money of that magnitude until we build our own facilities. We’ve still got McLean Park going. We started that in a time of largesse and where sponsorship in terms of buying boxes and that sort of thing was reasonably easy to come by. We’ve got to follow through on that and make sure that we paid for it in total. And the Museum and Art Gallery needs to be paid for in total. And the business park needs to be well under way and its infrastructure solid before we can afford as a city to put money into anything else. And I wouldn’t think in the next three years we would be doing that.”
Napier City Council has never taken a public vote on a sports park or velodrome expenditure. I wonder if Napier ratepayers would back it.
Yet the Sports Park Trust peddles a $1 million Napier commitment in its official proposal to SPARC for the velodrome.
So what does Mayor Arnott now say?
“Even the media says it is not confirmed, funding for regional facilities is in the 10 year plan but subject to both the annual plan process and the green light for Lawrence’s project.”
In case Napier ratepayers are having trouble following this …
1. There’s a cryptic — at best — reference to funding ‘regional facilities’ in the Napier LTCCP.
2. BayBuzz was told explicitly there was no money for the RSP in the Napier LTCCP.
3. Yet someone in authority in Napier has apparently told the Sports Park Trust that they can pretend to SPARC that they have a Napier funding commitment for the velodrome.
4. But wait, that commitment is not official … NCC is going to ‘consult’ with Napier ratepayers in the upcoming budget cycle to get your ratification views on the matter. What ratepayers are going to participate in that sham? Probably the cycling fraternity … yet to ante up from their own pockets.
Whatever your views on the wisdom of a velodrome for Hawke’s Bay, wouldn’t you feel heaps better if all the players involved were simply truthful and candid with the public?
In a perverse way, this saga points me again to the potential value of amalgamation.
1. Put an end to the shell game (guess where the pea is now) and backroom maneuvering amongst the councils — no more ‘You give us a million for our project and we’ll give you a million for yours’.
2. Make decisions of regional significance on a genuinely regional basis with a regional rationale — what facilities, amenities and infrastructure does Hawke’s Bay need most, and where? And given limited resources, which should be at the top of the shopping list? Maybe the Regional Council should have given your money to Park Island enhancement or a Regional Aquatics Centre?
3. And put this sort of decision in one set of hands, where accountability and fiscal responsibility is clearly delineated and citizens must contend with only one set of officials ‘massaging’ the information. Think of it as helping to level the playing field as between the public bureaucracy and its voters/ratepayers!
Maybe then ratepayers would actually get to participate meaningfully and set priorities for major capital spending projects. These are the kind of choices we should be presented … not bullchips about $14 a year.