(just note that for Q1 and Q2 combined 2 mins was allowed and for subsequent questions just 1 min - so answers in many cases are too short and sweet)
1. What steps would you take to lower the Wanganui District Council's increasing debt?
Debt’s too high, but let’s not lose our heads over it – the wastewater debacle hasn’t helped - but some debt’s been paid back and it’s now at $75m. It’s unlikely to get close to $127m because earthquake strengthening can be spread over many years and we don’t yet know what relief we’ll get.
Rates have gone up 50 per cent in eight years and they’re planned to go up 60 per cent over the next eight. Whanganui can only take so much. We want to peg rates to inflation, so does this add to debt?
1. Promote our pegged rates in key markets Auckland, Wellington – SELL IT AS A POINT OF DIFFERENCE
2. Set up programmes to assist households and business to move here with no fuss - assign an advocate to the larger business cases
3. Promote Whanganui to the Auckland retired market so that they could free-up capital and enjoy life (POOR SODS!)
4. Promote Whanganui and its lifestyle to younger Aucklanders who’re priced out of the housing market and who have an internet-based business or one which doesn’t have to be there and show them a picture of the Sarjeant with Ruapehu looming behind it - skiing’s an 1 hr 20 mins away!
We have to look equally at the REVENUE side of the coin and that’s being ignored.
Attracting 600 households per year for the next 10 years would get the planned rates take. But, DO WE NEED $72m in rates versus the current $44m?
We have to manage our spend better, build each line item from the bottom up - what does best practice worldwide tell us?
We should consider amalgamation or at least sharing resources before we’re forced to.
We’ll have a wastewater treatment plant for a city of 300,000. If Open Country doubles, it’ll have minimal impact. If Affco Wiri moves here, under new bylaws they’ll have to improve. If we need extra capacity, bolt it on! We’re used to taking other cities’ shit – let’s turn it into profit! Timaru is and it’s really no different!
We need to attract visitors who will become residents who will bring businesses.
For me economic development, which includes marketing, is core. Do it differently to how Council does it now and if anything increase the budget. I'd like to see it rising to 5% of total Operational Expenditure after three years from the current 3.3%. Taking a tiny slice out of roading and water which account for 33% of total (and that's not allowing at all for any Capital Expenditure!) is a start. There's no point in having the flashiest deckchairs on the Titanic if it's sinking!
2 If you had to cut community projects or funding from the budget to reduce rates, what would you cut? Please be specific.
In terms of cutting projects, we need to stick to core business, but economic development which includes marketing is part of core business, just not the way that Council’s doing it at the moment.
3 The Wanganui Economic Development Strategy talks about creating an environment that welcomes and supports innovation and change. How should council contribute to this?
It’s not happening - the budget’s been cut 12 per cent - the biggest cut in actual dollars - when it should be the opposite!
Promotion of Whanganui comes out of that and right now most of it seems to be spent on the i-site, which is great when visitors are here, but what about attracting them in the first place? There’s almost nothing – probably less than 0.3% - spent on promotion outside Whanganui. Small but obvious examples of what’s lacking – turning left at National Park to come home and seeing a big turquoise sign saying “Welcome to Taranaki Fish & Game Country” and you think “hang on mate, Taranaki’s the other way!?”. Equally, there should be signs on SH1 for all that main highway traffic - strikingly obvious to me.
Good on the Council for getting ultrafast broadband here, we have to use it now - however that advantage might only last a nano-second.
Council should be a facilitator to attracting business – but it can’t do it all. There are some world-class businesses out there – we need to ask them what they want.
We need to push a Buy Whanganui campaign – I hear of lots of businesses not even given the chance to quote on local jobs.
And we must have iwi involvement and that need will only increase.
4. Do you support the Sarjeant Gallery extension project?
It shouldn’t be at a cost to the ratepayer, so don’t get your knickers in a twist – Govt will provide $10m, the rest will be via fundraising – but Council needs to get its act together. The extension will enable world-class exhibitions to be brought to Whanganui, just as we’ll have world-class features at the Museum – WHANGANUI WILL HAVE – here I go again - REALLY SIGNIFICANT POINTS OF DIFFERENCE – visitors will come, they will seek Whanganui out as a NZ highlight, not as an ALSO-RAN.
We just don’t appreciate how good the Serjeant and the Museum are and have the potential to be! Our children and their children will thank us for it.
5. We have a large number of old, leaking non-insulated houses in Wanganui, many rented out to beneficiaries and our more vulnerable people. Would you bring in a bylaw to insist on a standard of fitness for these houses, similar to a warrant of fitness we have for our cars?
I agree it’s an issue, but that is central government’s responsibility – Whanganui and other councils have too much on their plates already and are having to sell off assets/ businesses, which are seen to be in conflict with private enterprise, to have the time and resource to spend on an issue such as this. Put the onus back on central government, which it is doing pretty well through its Heat Smart Programme. Sorry to be so blunt, but not our responsibility.
6. Should the council continue to subsidise the PS Waimarie?
Yes, it’s a Whanganui icon. What’s unique about Whanganui is treasures like the Waimarie, the tram, the Museum and Art Gallery, the at-risk heritage buildings (more than the whole of Auckland!), our rich Maori culture and history, the arts. Whanganui needs to look more to its past in order to look to its future. These are our points of difference, which we need to market.
You pick off each of our icons one by one and they’ll all fall over and what will we have left – nothing! They collectively need to be marketed as our points of difference – as a total package.
Supermarkets use loss leaders as standard strategy to get consumers through the door. It’s a strategy we need to follow to bring visitors and fill our shops and motels.
Funny thing, it seems that just a few years ago the Waimarie was profitable. I’d like to know what changed? And don’t blame it on the GFC!
7. Do you think Wanganui has an issue with its image? If so, what's the first thing you would do to change it?
Hell yes! I personally believe a bad image is Whanganui’s biggest issue. ¾ of NZers either don’t want to come here or don’t know anything about the city and region. In the absence of its being promoted, the city’s image has been hijacked by bad news such as gang patches, Beast of Blenheim, the endless H in Whanganui debate and now Ponganui which I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s contributed to the drop off in visitor numbers in the last three months especially. If we don’t attract visitors, we won’t attract new residents or their businesses.
I would threaten the bad news merchants with exile, re-prioritise Council spend, begin to market the city’s points of difference and develop programmes to smooth people’s relocation and their businesses here and get Whanganui people in behind it. Let’s stop being so negative!
8. Would you reinstate admission charges at the Wanganui Museum? The museum was paying its way until the admission charges were dropped - is it now a burden on ratepayers?
Nowhere in the world are museums expected to pay for themselves. Overseas visitors just don’t do it. Museums are repositories of history, culture, nature. Saying that, Dr Eric Dorfman and his team expect to quadruple numbers in three years – they’re treble now at 60,000 in two years.
When they took the charge away, donations rose 40 per cent. Another slant: one overseas couple would have baulked at paying the 7.50 charge, and then spent 150 on a piece of pounamu.
They’re extending the shop to showcase local artists’ talent, looking to put in a café, promoting the Museum as a venue – to increase revenue. Only 2% of their artefacts are displayed and they want to bring in a natural history curator so that they’ll be the only museum worldwide with a gallery specialising in moa - another major point of difference for Whanganui. If someone lingers ½ day longer to take in the Museum and stays an extra night, I’m all for the Museum and no more admission fee. Best provincial museum in the country.