Mayor blasts investment claims

By Simon Hendery

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Napier mayor Bill Dalton.
Napier mayor Bill Dalton.

Napier Mayor Bill Dalton says his council is close to receiving a report that will refute claims the city has under-invested in infrastructure.

The claims have arisen as part of the amalgamation debate in response to anti-amalgamation lobbyists, including Mr Dalton, raising concerns about how debt will be serviced under a proposed Hawke's Bay-wide super council.

The debt issue was raised on Thursday at a public meeting in Waipawa, where Mr Dalton and Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule squared off over their different views on the amalgamation proposal put forward by the Local Government Commission (LGC) which would see Hawke's Bay's five local authorities merged into one.

Opponents of the proposal, including Mr Dalton, are concerned ratepayers in Napier, which has low public debt, will end up sharing Hastings' much higher debt load under a merged council.

Others argue Napier City has under-invested in its infrastructure over the years - and thereby avoided taking on debt - a claim Mr Dalton dismissed yesterday as "a total load of rubbish".

"I would almost guarantee that Napier's infrastructure is better than Hastings'," he said.

In its proposal, the commission has proposed debt be "ring-fenced" (confined to the area where it was incurred) for up to six years.

At Thursday's meeting, Mr Dalton said the LGC proposal "says very clearly that debt does not have to be ring-fenced, and in any case, you tell me how you effectively ringfence debt. It simply doesn't work".

Mr Yule said there were provisions in the relevant legislation which allowed for consideration to be made for ring-fencing for longer periods.

He said that longer-term approach had been effectively used in the Hastings/Havelock North area since a round of amalgamations in 1989 brought Hastings City, the surrounding county and Havelock North together into a single local authority: the present-day Hastings District Council.

Mr Dalton said the LGC's proposal left the door open on how the proposed super-council dealt with existing debt. The proposal says: "For a period of not less than 6 years, loans raised by the affected authorities will be repaid by targeted rates over the area of the former district for which that loan was raised (or part of the district where a loan was raised for the benefit of part of the area of one of the former districts)."

It goes on to say: "Notwithstanding [the previous clause] the area over which targeted rates are assessed to repay loans may be varied if it is determined that the area benefiting from a loan has changed."

Mr Dalton said that effectively meant the amalgamation proposal "is carefully worded so they can do anything they like".

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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