Is sport over-funded or under-funded in Hawke’s Bay? Who knows?!
Recent episodes during the Hastings Council budget process highlight the need for a truly regional sport strategy.
Not the one prepared by Sport Hawke’s Bay in 2004 and now gathering dust on various bookshelves. [I’ve heard the organization’s CEO, in previous presentations to our various Councils, bemoan the fact that our Councils ignore that strategy in their budgeting decisions.]
Instead, I’d like to see an updated Regional Sport Strategy that all relevant players buy into … and that actually drives region-wide policy on: needs identification and assessment, facilities siting, appropriate spending to address priority needs (allocated across Councils), public/private partnership priorities, external fundraising priorities, and setting of consistent user fees (and cost recovery assumptions).
This kind of coordinated planning, prioritising and budgeting works for transportation decision-making in Hawke’s Bay. Why not the ubiquitous — and costly — domain of sport?
Instead, we have competition amongst facilities; sport codes and facility operators darting from one Council to the next, from one gaming and community trust to the next, to beg for funds; steady upward pressure on user charges, which are already inconsistent across the Bay; every sports code claiming to be the fastest-growing and/or neediest. No one seems to be aware of — or care about — the big picture.
Witness two episodes during the recent Hastings Council budget deliberations … both with implications beyond Hastings.
First was a proposal, advanced by Mayor Yule, to allocate a placeholder commitment of $30,000 toward maintenance of hockey turf. The grounds are located in Napier, and so naturally Hastings balks at paying its share. The Mayor framed his proposal as a sort of peace-keeping gesture. While the expenditure might be entirely justified, it was rejected because of the way it was brought forward, with no documentation explaining the overall revenue picture, operating costs, capital needs or financial structure of HB Hockey.
The proposal sparked a Council discussion about the need to have a regional context for such spending. The draft budget does provide for a ‘regional sports facility review.’ Astonishingly, the Hastings executive in charge of this domain seemed ambivalent about that need. To paraphrase him: If Hastings gets it own house in order, and Napier does the same, we might find there’s no need for a regional strategy. This fellow is a recent hire from Napier City Council, where “WE GO IT ALONE” is etched into each and every employee’s forehead.
Despite that minor staff waffle, Mayor Yule made clear he wanted at least a review of the fees charged to users of the various sport facilities across the region. He seemed to be implying that sport clubs should pay the same amount to play their respective sport — say, netball or soccer or rugby — on public fields and facilities no matter where in the region they live and play. That sounds fair and reasonable … and, well, regional.
Scratching a bit below the surface, perhaps there are other concerns. Two of the Mayor’s favourite facilities — Pettigrew-Green Arena and the Hastings Sports Park, might actually require significantly higher user fees if they hope to operate in a financially viable manner. If prices to the ‘consumer’ need to go up … best that they go up across the entire region! Otherwise, for example, who would want to pay a healthy premium to play soccer at the Hastings Sports Park versus Napier’s Park Island?
The second episode involved aforesaid Pettigrew-Green Arena.
In a letter from Lawrence Yule, that facility’s Chair, to HDC’s finance officer, a request was made for $30,000 in operational support. It seems that the Arena’s funding model is broken … or as the letter says, ‘unsustainable.’ The Arena has not received Council funding since 2006.
Among other matters, that perennial issue of not providing sufficiently for maintenance and upgrading of facilities has crept up on the Arena. And who gets bitten in the butt for the bailout … Councils (i.e., ratepayers). Councils love to build stuff. To sell these projects at the outset, they downplay the ongoing operating and future maintenance and renewal costs, and then fob these off to the ratepayer at a later time, when there’s little choice in the matter.
In this case, the proposed $30K was already slotted in the draft HDC budget, making it virtually a done deal. [Napier City Council and EIT are also targeted for $30K and $15K respectively … apparently the Regional Council got lucky on this hit.]
However, a sufficient group of Hastings Councillors rebelled, insisting that Pettigrew-Green Arena should be required to make a formal submission, like any other funding supplicant, spelling out its case for public subsidy.
In this case, a casual toss of $30K was averted … at least for the moment.
However, the bigger issue is again … regional context. Three public entities are being asked for money (maybe they just forgot about HBRC). No examination has been made as to whether the financial challenges faced by the Arena are indicative of a broader sport funding conundrum confronting the Bay. If so, how should a growing funding gap be addressed? Out of user pockets directly? By all of us as ratepayers? By tightening our collective regional sport belt and allocating the funds available more rationally?
In the past, I’ve referred to our Councils’ budget approach as ‘squeaky wheel’ budgeting. If you’re industrious enough to put your $$ request formally into the hopper, and then manage to raise a bit of fuss with a senior Councillor, you have a pretty good chance of picking up some cash. [The technical term is ‘lollies’.]
By deflecting attention from serious budget priority issues, the ‘squeaky wheel’ approach serves nearly everyone’s purposes. Councillors don’t need to think too hard — or even get informed — about big issues, let alone take positions on them. They think they’ve done a solid day’s work by ‘saving’ the ratepayer from some spurious $5K or $10K extravagance. And the staffs get to have 95% of their budget juggernaut roll forward uncontested.
The public submission window will open for all our Councils at roughly the beginning of April. Need money? Don’t miss your chance to be a squeaky wheel. Alternatively, consider joining Squeaky Wheels Against Spending!
P.S. I’d love to see a submission from Grey Power on sport funding!