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Dunedin council squeezes costs

By Chris Morris

Council chief executive Paul Orders. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Council chief executive Paul Orders. Photo / Otago Daily Times

The blowtorch is on Dunedin City Council staff to save more money as part of a push to accelerate debt repayments.

Staff are already under pressure to find $4.6 million in savings by early next year to achieve a targeted rates rise of no more than 4 per cent for the 2013-14 financial year.

That was part of a council push announced last year to limit rates rises to no more than 5 per cent in 2012-13 - a goal already achieved - followed by 4 per cent and 3 per cent in the following two financial years.

However, new budget guidelines issued to senior staff last month - and released to the Otago Daily Times last week - showed councillors wanted to go further.

Staff have instead been asked to identify ways of trimming more from capital and operational costs, to free up 1 per cent of the expected 4 per cent rates rise for other uses.

That meant additional savings of $1.2 million would need to be found from a variety of potential sources.

Mayor Dave Cull said the most likely use of the money saved would be to accelerate the repayment of council debt.

Alternatively, the savings could be used to lower the rates rise for the year to 3 per cent, or use the spare money for a new project, although that was considered unlikely, he said.

The savings goal was "challenging", but staff had responded well to similar challenges to date, he said.

Council chief executive Paul Orders said when contacted debt repayment was "clearly a key issue for councillors", and cost-cutting options were being considered.

"It means the days of growth budgets are over as far as the Dunedin City Council is concerned," he said.

The guidelines were drawn up following a workshop with Mr Cull, his councillors and senior staff on August 9.

They were released to the ODT, following a request under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987.

Mr Cull said options identified by staff to achieve the additional savings would be considered when budget meetings began in January.

Mr Cull confirmed that could include cuts to service levels - as the guidelines noted - but councillors would have the final say about whether the price of cuts was too high.

The "general rule" given to staff on capital spending was that no new projects could be added to the 10-year capital spending programme agreed at this year's long-term plan hearings, the guidelines said.

- Otago Daily Times

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