Napier City Council yesterday approved setting aside $50,000 to push its anti-amalgamation message, despite concerns from some councillors that the move amounted to throwing ratepayer money at a "tit-for-tat" marketing war with neighbouring Hastings District Council.
The Hastings council has spent more than $49,000 promoting its pro-amalgamation stance to residents in its district and Napier City has funded the major share of a $22,500 Hawke's Bay-wide anti-amalgamation booklet letterbox drop organised in partnership with Wairoa and Central Hawkes' Bay district councils.
At a meeting of Napier City's finance committee yesterday, the majority of councillors were in favour of setting funding aside to match Hastings' spend, but three councillors opposed the move, saying the council's booklet spend was sufficient to provide residents with information on the issue.
Councillor Annette Brosnan said residents had told her they found the booklet already produced to be valuable but she was uncomfortable with further money being spent in the campaign.
"I think we risk getting into a tit-for-tat with Hastings in terms of the budget they're allocating for the amalgamation fight. And quite frankly I think the facts speak for themselves on this issue. I think our engaged ratepayers, our engaged voters, have already made their minds up on this issue and I think most of Napier is behind this council and our unanimous view."
She said she would be happy, however, for the council to approve any specific items of expenditure related to pushing the amalgamation issue if and when they came up.
Napier Mayor Bill Dalton said he "strongly opposed" that approach because "regretfully" the council needed to have the resources to respond in kind to Hastings' campaign, if required.
"We're not actually approving any expenditure here, we're approving a budgetary amount and any expenditure out of that budgetary amount will come back to council [for approval] anyway."
Councillor Roy Sye, who opposed setting aside $50,000, said Napier City's spend would be a "drop in the bucket" because it was up against not only the Hastings council but the budgets of the Local Government Commission, which is proposing amalgamation for the region, and pro-amalgamation lobby groups such as A Better Hawke's Bay.
Councillor Michelle Pyke said even if $50,000 was a comparatively small amount, the council needed to have the funds available in case it needed to spend more pushing its message, but on the condition that approval was needed on how the money was spent.
Deputy Mayor Faye White said the council would be prudent but needed to "fight back in some way rather than just lie down and be rolled over by power and money".
However, councillor Graeme Taylor, the third councillor opposed to setting the $50,000 budget, said the council could get its message out through a number of means that did not require spending further money.
"We've put the brochure out there; the public are aware. We don't need to have funds sitting there in case. It can always come back as an unbudgeted item."
The $50,000 limit agreed to at yesterday's meeting includes the money already spent on the booklet drop. Napier City Council is expecting the Wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay councils to reimburse it about $3000 each for the letterbox drop.