Mayoral candidate promises to freeze Whangarei rates

By Alexandra Newlove

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Whangarei mayoral hopeful David Blackley is confident he can improve council's performance and service level, despite proposing a zero rates increase.
Whangarei mayoral hopeful David Blackley is confident he can improve council's performance and service level, despite proposing a zero rates increase.

In the coming weeks The Northern Advocate will profile candidates contesting the region's three mayoralties in October's Local Government Elections. Alexandra Newlove spoke to a whangarei challenger, david blackley, about his aspirations for the city.

David Blackley stops short of naming himself a Donald Trump supporter, but says that like the Republican nominee, he "isn't afraid to call a spade a spade".

Mr Blackley, the man behind a series of anonymous newspaper advertisements which manifested into the 13-candidate, business and growth-centric "Go-Whangarei" party, is giving up his natural habitat as a father, Purua/Parua Bay farmer, and property developer to try to topple councillors who have allowed the city to "wallow", he says.

One of the slicker and more comprehensive campaigns on offer this election, Go-Whangarei is pushing for a complete rates freeze, along with free parking, better rubbish services and more community funding.

It's an about-turn from the strategy of the current council, which put up rates 9 per cent last year and 4 per cent this year, with further increases planned until 2025. An antidote, sitting Mayor Sheryl Mai said, to previous councils debt - funding large projects and letting maintenance slip, and a ratepayer base that now expected a higher level of service.

Mr Blackley says "absolutely no services" will be cut under his regime - which sounds too good to be true, given a zero rates increase would cut more than $22 million from council's planned budgets over the next three years.

But he says savings would come through the postponement of expensive capital projects: Probably the new $18 million water treatment plant and the $10 million set aside to build new council offices. (WDC said its current water plant would be expensive to maintain going forward, and needed $13 million of immediate work and estimated it would save $1 million a year bringing staff under one roof.)

Then, Mr Blackley says, his business nous - which he says is lacking on the current council - will drive efficiencies of 2 to 6 per cent against the current $130 million operational spend.

"I have been involved in some substantial businesses for a long time ... I have no doubt that savings can be achieved in the council that will easily meet any shortfall that may come about with the freezing of the rates."

Mr Blackley's beef is "red tape". He wants to "streamline bureaucracy", despite most of the council's planning and regulatory functions being imposed by central government.

"You're digging me but I've already given the answers," he says, when asked exactly which areas of bureaucracy the council could do away with, naming vague areas like planning, roading, infrastructure and environment.

He says the current council doesn't do things right the first time round and "planning and zoning rules are overly restrictive and not conducive to growth".

In 2005 Mr Blackley bought into Port Whangarei and its surrounds but became so frustrated with the council that he later sold his share.

Whangarei had a reputation as being "unwelcoming" for developers - which would change under his stewardship, he says.

"Bear in mind that our primary focus - other than the immediate support of communities - is to actively encourage economic growth throughout the region, which will in itself lead to a broader rate base," he says.

Go-Whangarei's 13 candidates were hand-picked by Mr Blackley. The party needed at least eight candidates, or six plus a mayor's swing vote, to hold a majority in chambers. Mr Blackley is also standing as a councillor for Whangarei Heads ward.

- Northern Advocate

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