Napier City councillors are being asked to approve spending up to $50,000 of ratepayers' money on a campaign to oppose amalgamation - matching the amount spent by Hastings District Council to support the proposal.
Napier Mayor Bill Dalton says his council may not spend the full amount it plans to set aside but his Hastings counterpart, Lawrence Yule, says Napier's campaign has already cost more than Hastings' because it funded a $43,000 anti-amalgamation consultant's report.
Hawke's Bay Today revealed on Saturday that Hastings councillors agreed in secret in December to increase a previously-approved campaign budget from $35,000 to $50,000 of which over $49,000 has now been spent.
Meanwhile, three councils opposed to amalgamation - Napier City, Wairoa District and Central Hawke's Bay District - have shared the $22,571 cost of distributing an anti-amalgamation booklet to homes across the region, including in Hastings.
Mr Dalton said last week he did not expect his council to spend any more money marketing its anti-amalgamation stance beyond its share of the booklet drop, estimated at $15,000.
However, when Napier City's finance committee meets on Wednesday, councillors will be asked to approve a budget review which includes setting aside $50,000 to push the anti-amalgamation message.
In a report to the committee, Napier City Council chief executive Wayne Jack says: "This review provides $50,000 for anticipated amalgamation expenses for engaging with our community this financial year. This has been partially funded from a reallocation of existing budgets."
Mr Dalton yesterday stood by his comment last week that, despite the proposed allocation, the council may not spend any more on the campaign.
"There are no specific plans but we want to have provision there.
"We are fully aware of how much Hastings has spent and we just need to be prepared to put the truth before people and put the other side of the amalgamation argument."
Meanwhile, Mr Yule said yesterday his council's decision to increase its spend beyond the $35,000 limit set out in its annual plan was made at an informal meeting of councillors and did not require a formal resolution because the top-up came out of contingency funds where spending was at the discretion of acting chief executive John O'Shaughnessy.
"We said, here's the budget, it's going to cost up to $50,000 and the extra money [above $35,000], if there was any required, was to come out of the contingency fund which he has at his discretion."
Mr Yule said Napier City had effectively spent more on pushing its amalgamation position than his council because in 2013 Napier commissioned a $43,000 report on the issue from an Australian academic Brian Dollery.
The findings in Professor Dollery's report, titled Bigger is Not Always Better, were dismissed at the time by the pro-amalgamation lobby as being biased and pre-determined.
Mr Dalton yesterday rejected Mr Yule's claim, saying council's regularly took professional advice from consultants.
"That's exactly what we did with the Dollery report - we sought further advice from an acknowledged consultant in the field.
"That's got nothing to do with launching huge advertising campaigns with propaganda."
The two councils' decision to spend money promoting their opposing views on the issue has been slammed by the Taxpayers' Union which has called it an arrogant waste of ratepayer money on an issue that will ultimately be decided by voters through a binding poll, likely to be held around August.
That view was shared by Hastings District councillor Wayne Bradshaw who was not at the meeting where fellow councillors agreed to boost the campaign fund to $50,000.
"If any politicians feel strongly about amalgamation - either for or against - then let them spend their own money supporting their view, not use ratepayers' money," he said.