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The Press-News column June 9

Protect the Christchurch Ratepayer

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel’s 11th hour re-hash of the draft long term plan ( LTP) provides the faintest flicker of relief for your backpocket, but you’ll still be rogered.  This unorthodox intervention plan by the Mayor appears  to be driven by the desire to maintain a veneer of political unity around the council table.  After listening to the hundreds of oral submissions to the LTP, Dalziel is trumpeting her compromise plan as proof positive of the power of consultation.  But her re-set plan doesn’t slay the raging rates track, beyond a bit of fiddling. The draft LTP projected a 33% cumulative rates hike over the next four years, starting with 8.75% this year. Under Dalziel’s new deal, the four year track clocks up a 28% hike. Hardly a traffic-stopping change, considering it’s still running at 7 times the rate of inflation.  The average rates demand will be still racked up by an extra 10 dollars a week, as will rental housing costs. It’s crudely ironic that for all the handwringing and rhetoric by councillors about unaffordable housing , they are wilfully choosing to drive up rents. I canvassed the views from a range of councillors over the weekend, about the Dalziel “compromise”. Cr Ali Jones welcomes the plan as a great starting point, but is acutely concerned that the rates hikes are inflating housing costs. She’s vowing to push hard to drag down the rates rises. Ditto from Cr Jamie Gough, who wants the “unsustainable” rates track reduced further, to ensure prospective and existing residents to Christchurch aren’t financially turned-off from living here. Gough is right. The current trajectory will still see the Christchurch rates bill become the second highest of any New Zealand metro council, after being one of the lowest. Meanwhile, finance committee chairman, Cr Raf Manji says we are “bending our backs a bit…and there have to trade-offs. He wants a downward sloping rates curve followed by a rates cap. Dalziel’s proposal to elongate the asset sales process over three years, with special consultation for any selldown of the airport, seaport or Orion, is a big fat sop to those po-faced People’s Choice councillors, who remain ideologically incontinent about divestment, and are increasingly mindful that their jobs go on the line, next year. There’s not a lot to show from the first 20 months, beyond commissioning financial reports and exhaustive rounds of consultation. When is this council actually going to make some hard calls? Slowing down the big hairy decisions on asset sales carries the wimpy whiff of self-preservation and political expedience.

Mike’s weekly current affairs column, first published in The Press. http://www.stuff.co.nz

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