The race for Rotorua mayoralty
Should Rotorua be spending money on big projects such as the Lakefront? Or should the focus be on keeping rates and debt down? These are key questions that spell out the differences between current mayor Steve Chadwick and her closest rival from the last election, Reynold Macpherson.

As part of a series on the race for the Rotorua mayoralty and with fewer than six months until the 2019 local body elections, Zizi Sparks examines what Chadwick and Macpherson see are the important issues they will be campaigning on - and it's clear they are miles apart.

For Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick, the 2019 election is about finishing what she started: projects such as the Lakefront, Sanatorium Reserve, museum and performing arts centre.

For her chief rival, Reynold Macpherson, it's all about change.

Chadwick wants to see the Lakefront redevelopment through. The current council has committed $20 million to the project and secured $19.9m in match funding from the Government.

The revitalisation would include a walkway and terraces, a new playground, boardwalk and more.

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The current council has also committed $5.5m to enhance Kuirau Park, by building a geothermally-heated children's water play area and creating a new outdoor community gathering area and toilets.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick at her Kawaha Point home. Photo / Stephen Parker
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick at her Kawaha Point home. Photo / Stephen Parker

She wants to see the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre and museum re-opened after both were closed following earthquake damage and seismic assessments.

Both have had money allocated but need more to get the job done.

Work to reopen the museum has been estimated at $40m to $47m. The council has committed $15m to the project, the Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust $10m, and the remaining $15m to $22m is being sought from central Government and fundraising.

The performing arts centre upgrade has been costed at $17.9m.

The council has committed $11.5m towards the project, and to date, a total of $6.6m has been raised externally, from the likes of New Zealand Lottery and One Foundation.

"These are huge projects and we were instrumental in getting partnership funding for them and I want to see them through. There's a lot to do," Chadwick said.

"They are all important. It's not one instead of the other.

The Rotorua Museum has been closed since 2017. Photo / File
The Rotorua Museum has been closed since 2017. Photo / File

"They all need to be finished and the funding is there … They can all be covered off but they are incumbent on some other funders coming to the party."

Chadwick's also looking to the future. Rotorua Lakes Council has already focused on refreshing and revitalising the inner-city with lights, a new $16m library and children's health hub, the $1.135m Te Manawa and more.

Now she wants to reinvent it. She's talked about the need for both a community centre and sustainability centre.

"We really do need to reinvent the inner-city as we know it. It's no longer a retail space alone, it's retail, offices, churches and it needs to be housing."

Chadwick says she wished the money had been secured for the four-laning of Te Ngae Rd.

"All the big projects we're building around a connected roading network. We desperately need the funding for that. That's something I'm constantly harping on about."

But most of all she's "dying to finish the projects we began".

"This journey started in 2013 and is coming to be now … This was a town going nowhere then, now it's really booming and other investors are saying we'd love to come here."

Incumbent mayor Steve Chadwick is running again

But for Reynold Macpherson finishing the Lakefront redevelopment is not a priority.

His group, the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers, wants to review the project's financing, plans and progress against other priorities.

This list of priorities and positions for the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers Association heading into the 2019 election runs to more than 20 points.

The association's council candidates, led by Macpherson, have agreed three are key.

RDRR's CURRENT ISSUES, PRELIMINARY POSITIONS AND SLOGANS RDRR Campaign Team, as at 6 April 2019 Rates Rises. Hold as...

Posted by Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers on Friday, 5 April 2019

"One is to bring the rates down much closer to inflation so that rates remain affordable. Secondly we're very concerned about the size of debt … The third priority is waste.

"We're very concerned about the amount of money being splurged on vanity projects, legacy projects and payback projects. We think it's irresponsible spending," Macpherson said.

He says vanity projects are in his view "self-indulgent, loss-making" projects such as the markets and Crankworx, and he describes legacy projects as "personal aggrandisement" projects such as Te Manawa and the $743,000 Hemo Sculpture due for installation by June, nearly two years after its original installation date.

Mayoral candidate Reynold Macpherson. Photo / Stephen Parker
Mayoral candidate Reynold Macpherson. Photo / Stephen Parker

As for payback projects, Macpherson's examples include the Lakefront and Mudtopia.

The resident's group strongly opposed Mudtopia in the lead-up to the event and afterwards asked the Office of the Auditor-General for a formal inquiry or forensic audit into it.

The auditor-general found it was not necessary. Rotorua Lakes Council spent a total of $1,681,814 delivering the event which operated at a loss of $570,387 and incurred a further $170,000 of capital expenses.

"My personal priority is to reform the system of governance we have and the administration and management behind that which implements policy. That's a top priority for me personally because that's my specialist area.''

Macpherson says implementing policy is the proper responsibility of councillors.

After coming second in 2016 he's back for round three.

He says in his opinion: "The current governance and management structures and processes in council are badly disconnected with weak consultations, poor information flows and negligible public accountability.

"We want democratic reforms so that council policy decisions are reserved to elected representatives, after recommendations from council subcommittees, advice from policy advisory boards, public hearings on significant changes, and advice from expert officials."

The association has also identified Te Ngae Rd and Ngongotaha congestion as issues. It says it will consult with the NZ Transport Agency and others on this. Other issues include the museum and Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre reopening, both of which the group would settle insurance on and seek government help to finance the reopening of.

Some members of the RDRR group - which includes Macpherson, councillors Peter Bentley and Raj Kumar, and hopefuls Peter Jones, Conan O'Brien and Linda Rowbotham - have vowed to review the Lakefront financing, plans and progress against priorities.

They have called the project a "huge gamble".

"Our members … want to have people at the table that understand what it's like to have rates going up.

"That's why we put together a team."

Conceptual impression of the Rotorua Lakefront development. Image / Supplied
Conceptual impression of the Rotorua Lakefront development. Image / Supplied

When asked what his legacy would be if elected, Macpherson says it would be that "we restored democracy and cleaned up the management and governance".

"That would be my hope, and of course dealing with issues of debt, rates and waste," he says.

"People ask us questions on those issues repeatedly our members do, people who are not members do.

Steve Chadwick has held the mayoralty since 2013.
Steve Chadwick has held the mayoralty since 2013.

"There are others issues that could be there but these are the top priorities."

On housing, Macpherson believes small housing developments would meet demand.

On rates, he wants to keep them as close to inflation as possible and bring them back down to be affordable. In the 2018 Long-term Plan, the average rates rise was 5.7 per cent.

In the 2019 Annual Plan it's proposed to be 4.9 per cent. Borrowing is proposed to reach $41.4m in the plan.

"It's crippling people. Also we've got to bring debt way, way down," he said.

The RDRR endorsed council candidates Peter Jones (left), Linda Rowbotham, Conan O'Brien, Peter Bentley, Reynold Macpherson and Raj Kumar. Photo / Supplied
The RDRR endorsed council candidates Peter Jones (left), Linda Rowbotham, Conan O'Brien, Peter Bentley, Reynold Macpherson and Raj Kumar. Photo / Supplied

Macpherson wants to give the Rotorua community the maximum amount of time possible to see exactly what the association is striving for and "what is, in our view, a much smarter set of options than the mayor's current position".

"I'm an organisational scientist and have personally spent big chunks of my life operating as a consultant to governance.

"I fix up large systems so fixing a small organisation [like the council], that to me is a fairly straightforward task."

Chadwick and Macpherson stand on opposite sides of the fence.

The next few months will see them push for what they believe in, and campaign to for votes in an attempt to get those who believe it too to vote for them.

Come October 12, the voters will have their say.

Mayor Steve Chadwick and Reynold Macpherson aren't the only ones gunning for a position at the council table. There are also 10 councillor seats available. Tomorrow Zizi Sparks takes a look at the old and the new faces who have thrown their hat in the ring already, and what they think the key issues are this election.
Plus she looks at who else is planning to take on 2016's top mayoral pollers

Key election dates in 2019
Key election dates in 2019