Rotorua ratepayers have shelled out nearly half a million dollars on events in less than eight months.
Information provided to the Rotorua Daily Post under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act revealed Rotorua Lakes Council spent $481,720.17 on events from July 1, 2019 to February 24, 2020.
Events were defined as entertainment events open to the public.
There were 247 items listed, some constituting festivals or multiple separate events.
The highest cost events to ratepayers were Crankworx at $75,000, Glo Festival at $70,352 and the Rotorua Bike Festival at $50,000.
The Daily Post also requested comparative spend for the previous two financial years, information on the budget for those events, and how the council measured the impact of the events on the economy of the city, as well as what the attendance of the events were.
The council said information for the previous years' spend would take "considerable staff time" - 10 hours - and would cost $684 to acquire.
Further charges would also be incurred by the collection of the rest of the request.
The council would also not comment - even in general terms - about previous years' spending on events, event attendance, comparison to budget, nor the council's view on economic or social benefits that arose from the events.
The council also provided in-kind support to some events in the form of staff hours, waiving venue hire and "other" which depended on the specific event, and usually included equipment hire costs or contra.
Staff hours dedicated numbered 1858 at $76 per hour, a total of $141,208, while waived venue hire fees came to $136,904. Other in-kind support came to $277,524.
The mayor and all councillors were approached for comment on this story.
Mayor Steve Chadwick said the events sector was "doing it very tough" at the moment, but Rotorua's strengths had played a "big role" in attracting events and "making them unique".
Those strengths were the environment, Te Arawa culture and lifestyle and economic opportunities, she said.
"We've hosted a huge array of everything from family, cultural and community events to local fundraisers, the arts, sports events, shows, festivals, concerts and conferences and these have been enjoyed by thousands of locals and visitors.'
There was a "huge value" in events and many benefits, adding vibrancy and contributing to cultural and social wellbeing and the economy.
"When we're able to have events again they could also play a vital role in bringing us back together as a community and contributing to our economic recovery."
Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson agreed and supported the spend, but said the allocation should be "periodically reviewed".
There were "well-demonstrated social, cultural and economic benefits", both direct and "legacy".
Ratepayers "absolutely" got value for money out of the events: "no question in my mind".
Attendance was wide-ranging, from "a handful" at some community events to a full crowd at Lakeside, 3000 participants in the Tarawera ultramarathon and 46,000 site visits to Crankworx.
Councillor Tania Tapsell said she was pleased people from all ages and backgrounds had been able to enjoy more than 300 diverse events.
"Many of them are free events which is really important to ensure access to everyone.
"I support anything that is good for Rotorua and has a sound business case. Any sponsorship of a major event is scrutinised and then approved if it brings social, economic and cultural benefits."
She said the council's investment in Crankworx contributed to a mountain biking boom in Rotorua and a 2018 council economic impact study showed the sport brought $30 million into the local economy each year.
"Like anything, if an event isn't successful we'll look at whether we will continue to support in future."
Councillor Sandra Kai Fong said in light of Covid-19 disruptions and the reduced ability of the council to generate income from rates, elected members would have a "really good debate and review" about what was essential spending and services.
Events brought "vibrancy" and in the past had economic benefits when visitors were attracted to the city to attend them.
"There is a case for still having events in our city but how many council funds with cash, how we fund and the type of support we can offer is something that will need review in light of the current economic climate."
Councillor Reynold Macpherson said the expenditure would "have to be reviewed".
He said parliament's Covid-19 epidemic response committee had made a call for councils to freeze rates and "see what is possible to reduce them".
"I suggest that Rotorua Council establish its own bipartisan Epidemic Response Committee of elected representatives, including RDRR councillors, to ask particular questions of officials."
He asked which council-subsidised tourism, sports and business events "should now stand alone or be rested".
"Which high-cost events - sometimes with heavy council staffing support - should now develop a new business plan to halve the council's subsidy each year?"
He also questioned which events were "more properly the responsibility of the ministries of health, welfare or education" and which events should be adopted and managed by voluntary organisations.
"Elected representatives on Rotorua Lakes Council now need to set fresh policy using particular questions."
Councillor Peter Bentley said the council should stop all payments to "non-essential activities", reassess all outgoings and undertake essential infrastructure work only until the ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic were understood.
He said staffing levels should also be scrutinised and the council should request the chief executive report on where the council could make "significant savings".
Bentley suggested one of those may be the necessity and relevance of council-controlled organisations.
Councillor Mercia Yates said arts and culture were a vital part of Rotorua's history and "importantly, its future".
Rotorua was becoming a "location of choice" for local, national and international events.
"Prior to Covid-19, it would be fair to say that Rotorua was poised for the return of many exciting events. In light of this, we must unite together."
Councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said she was "responding to other priorities at present".
Councillors Trevor Maxwell, Fisher Wang and Raj Kumar did not respond to a request for comment.
These questions were put to the Rotorua Lakes Council for comment.
- How does this spending compare to previous years spending on events?
- How does this spending compare to budgets for these events?
- Overall, is it over or under budget?
- What is the council's understanding of the attendance of these events? Were they all - well-attended? What is the measurement of success for these events?
- How much was the cost to each ratepayer, on average?
- In what other ways are these events valuable to ratepayers - that is, in terms of economic and social benefits to the city?
- And any other comments the council believes relevant context for this information.