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!

Tom Belford

P.S. I’d love to see a submission from Grey Power on sport funding!

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6 Comments

  1. Tom I’m curious why you would want to see a submission from Grey Power?

    Presumably many aged people have played sport or recreated at some time in their life? Probably at zero cost to them as a user and 100% cost to the ratepayer (as things were done in the good old days). Are you advocating that if there’s nothing in it for the individual then they should lobby against it? If you are surely that’s just replacing geographic boundaries with age boundaries.

    Also I’ve been along to PG Arena on many a weekday and seen hoards of seniors sweating it to big band tunes. Indeed as we live longer it’s probably more important that our elderly engage in physical activity and in the process lessening healthcare costs.

    Would be worth you looking at a project called ARPASS (Auckland Region Physical Activity and Sport Strategy) which attempted to do exactly what you talk about. Guess what, it didn’t work as with multiple councils the elected members parochialism they happily ignored the strategy. With five Councils in Hawke’s Bay, one can help but think that the very best strategy wouldn’t help with out a more strategic approach to regional governance.

  2. Mike,
    I have no doubt seniors like to exercise. And maybe there are some 65+ year-olds, our fastest growing demographic in HB, who would love to don their lycra and zip around the velodrome.

    But to many, exercise means things like walking on even footpaths, swimming, playing with grandkids at local playgrounds and reserves … all of which cost money and are presently under-provided. So I suspect the Grey Power sport budget for Hawke’s Bay might look heaps different than the one advanced by avid cyclists and sports codes. But presently, it’s the ‘organized’ sporties who get the Councils’ cash.

    Of course that begs the question of whether seniors might think Councils’ are over-allocating funds to sports in the first place, compared to other priorities … including leaving more money in the pockets of fixed-income retirees.

    In any event, I’d like to hear from them on the issue.

    Agree with your point about current governance thwarting rationality on such matters.

  3. Tom,
    Congratulations. Yet another provocative and pertinent article.

    As an accommodation provider, speaking purely privately, the most vexatious point for us is the lack of co-ordination or planning of sporting events that attract out of town visitors.
    Year after year we see the clash of all the secondary schools’ regional, island and national sporting events. The same week we have hockey, soccer, netball etc.
    Accommodation becomes a nightmare and many end up disappointed in their accommodation and the Bay’s ability to deal with these events.

    Why can there not be a governing body that look s at the big picture? These events bring a huge amount of money to the region and rather than alienate schools and groups I would have thought we could nurture them to the benefit of the region.

    Given the fees charged to these schools, surely the venues must be generating an income for some one. Why not use the revenue from the gaming machines to promote these facilities and encourage year-round out of town teams to come and practice.

    All this council money to support, as it seems, under-utilised venues.

    My very personal views.

  4. Yes, I would love to hear Grey Power's opinion!

    Did you pop out to the regional sports facility this weekend ? If you did you would have been as impressed as I was by the competitors from all parts of New Zealand and some from Australia competing in the New Zealand Masters Games, where hundreds of athletes competed in track and field events against their peers in 5 year age bands- up to 85y plus! Their spirit, athleticism, camaraderie and enjoyment of life were wonderful to see. These were not people sitting out their final days but living each day to the max – I hope to join them next time! (even though I'm in my 40's I am inspired to get back into the spikes I last wore as a 17 year old rather than just watching my kids compete)

    Talking of which- did you go to the Colgate Games in January at the Regional Sports Park. Now that was impressive too- thousands of families from around New Zealand descended on Hawke's Bay to watch/support their children and grandchildren as they competed for their hometown athletic clubs. The grandstand was packed to capacity, and the view from up there was spectacular- children participating in healthy competition in foreground, orchards and vineyards midfield and Te Mata Peak in the distance, all under a brilliant blue Hawke's Bay sky.

    Every Tuesday evening hundreds of local children exercise at the park, starting a healthy lifestyle that will make them less of a drain on the health system.

    These young people and older people are not those unsociable complainers/taggers who smoke and booze their weekends away. These are people living the Hawke's Bay lifestyle.

    We are thrilled that we chose to emigrate to Hawke's Bay, and the sporting opportunities here are some of the reasons that myself and my husband (both professionals ) are very happy to stay here even though we could earn twice as much in Auckland/Sydney where our siblings have emigrated.

    Sometimes the benefits of a facility to a community are measured in more than dollars and cents.

  5. Tom, obviously Mike Williams struck a nerve with his comments. The sarcastic tone of your quip about those over 65 ‘zipping around the velodrome’ is a dead giveaway. It could be that grey power will oppose the development of the Sports Park, but if they are motivated by having no use for it due to their age then it would be rather selfish, as they no doubt have had plenty of use in their lifetime of publicly funded sporting facilities, as Mike has pointed out. By the same token they would need to be against the public funding of schools.

    Good to read Wendy Gushes enthusiastic appreciation of life in H B too. Sure beats the moaning, of which there is no shortage.

  6. I find the principles of your argument absolutely on the button. However I would like to advise you that Hawkes Bay Hockey have made several submissions to the HDC, with financial reports, player participation, and economic impact.

    The $30,000 you mention that the mayor seemed to have plucked out of the air, is the set-a-side pa requirement to replace an artificial turf every ten years.ie $300,000 a time. We have shown thta this is much more economic than maitaining grass pitiches neeeded to support our player nubers. We have many other points of data which the HDC has.

    But, above all, I would like to meet you to discuss this regoinal aproach further.

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