A Tauranga councillor has called for a halt on planning for a new musuem and library as a possible citywide referendum is explored.

City Transformation Committee chairman Larry Baldock clashed with council staff over how to progress the projects as the council prepares to let the public have a say.

Baldock said there was enough existing information for the public to make decisions.

But staff argued the council's decision to set the project budgets millions below estimates meant plans needed to be scaled down to accurately reflect what the city could expect for that money - before consultation.

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Last year the council voted to put $25.65m of ratepayer money towards a $55.65m museum at Cliff Rd – shaving $8.8m or 14.9 per cent off the estimated cost of the project as planned.

The Willow St library took an even bigger hit, with the budget of $30m ($25m from ratepayers) set more than a third – $17.8m – under the expert's estimates.

Both projects have been added to the council's plan for the next decade, which will go out for public consultation over the first half of this year.

Another potential spanner in the works is a referendum on the museum decision that Mayor Greg Brownless and Deputy Mayor Kelvin Clout have asked council staff to look into attaching to April's citywide by-election.

Heart of the City programme director Adele Hadfield said there was a lot of work to be done to "align the projects with expectations" before taking them to the public.

"Some tradeoffs have to be made. We would like to be as transparent as possible about what those tradeoffs will be."

They were also looking at ways to make the project more palatable to residents of Cliff Rd, many of whom have spoken out against the council's location choice for the museum.

Last year the council approved an additional $200,000 to continue planning for the museum. City transformation general manager Jaine Lovell-Gadd said work had started in the new year and the money had started to be spent.

Baldock said continuing work or spending on anything other than the city planning process before the feedback was in was "putting the cart before the horse".

He believed the public would make their decisions based on "the big picture", not minute details.

"There are too many projects in this council's history - including this one - that had millions spent only to then be turned down by elected members after the reaction from the community."

At Wednesday's meeting the committee decided to hold off deciding the next steps for the projects until next month's meeting.