One of the main themes of the Dunedin City Council Economic Development Strategy has been the notion that Dunedin is an affordable city. That’s an admirable idea and one that every person would naturally support. However, when looking at the annual fees and charges that the City Council ask citizens pay for services it becomes clear that our affordability is rapidly being eroded away. These types of costs hurt our community and our economy.
What’s new you might ask? Well when you compare the increases in City Council fees and charges over the last 3-5 years they’re generally higher than the current rate of inflation. Remember that inflation is a sustained increase in the general level of prices for goods and services. It is measured as an annual percentage increase. As inflation rises, every dollar you own buys a smaller percentage of a good or service. It means that you see a decline of the purchasing power of you money. This is particularly relevant to people on medium to low incomes who through that loss of purchasing power see a decline in their standard of living.
Several areas of the Council’s fees and charges are very concerning given that the New Zealand economy has been in a period of low inflation for several years and has dropped to 0.4% this year. Some examples of increases in fees and charges being considerably greater than the rate of inflation are;
Burial and cremation fees have risen by 18% in the last 5 years
Charges to sports clubs for sports fields have risen 13.4% in 5 years, 7.5% in the last 3 years.
A 3.25% increase in dog registration fees every year in the last 5 years.
The permit for building a deck in your house has risen 27.5% in 4 years.
Some increases may be attributable to changes in government policy and legislation but in the light of the annual 3% increase in rates heralded by the City Council each year it appears fees and charges are subsidising those capped increases. These increases in the everyday aspects of peoples lives in Dunedin is hurting our community in a wide variety of areas. Its time that we had a more transparent look at the just how affordable our city really is in lieu of these costs for everyday things in our community.
I was a little whakama (shy, nervous) about putting out an election sign in Te Reo Maori. However, living on the Peninsula and working in Dunedin has taught me to look deeply at the nature of our community and how we can support one another.Language is one of those ways, and through it we can learn a deeper understanding of the world and place we live in. I’ve been very fortunate to receive much support and guidance from many Maori people in my life, so I thought I would be brave. Nga mihi.
In the last few months we’ve seen the knotty problem of freedom camping in areas like Warrington raised by the community. Having spent the last three years on the Otago Peninsula Community Board dealing with this issue its become clear that we must act far more decisively than we have done to date. That means investment, dialogue and looking at innovative ways to control the effects of the activity on local people and local areas.
In the Peninsula example the Dunedin City Council undertook a trial of using the main street of Macandrew Bay. The result was an influx of campers in non self-contained vehicles stretching local resources to the limit. With it came significant unrest among the community and others that supported the trial. After consulting with the community the Board sought a change in the bylaw and a removal of the trial area from Macandrew Bay and this changed the problem dramatically. The bylaw also removed non self-contained vehicles off public areas onto designated areas or private motor camps. Unfortunately, in the Warrington example that change has brought about even greater pressure on the site as it becomes more popular for visitors. In my view, its time we moved away from ad hoc schemes and took a more planned approach to the issue city wide. A more comprehensive approach to the issue should:
Undertake proper research into visitor accommodation and expenditure through the University of Otago Tourism Department to have real data for decision-making and planning.
Invest in appropriate infrastructure so that we no longer have to “make do.”
Develop in partnership with the Department of Conservation or private enterprise for DoC style campsites with water, toilets and rubbish collection that can be used by campers for a nightly fee.
Have limits on the numbers at certain sites to reduce the stress on communities.
Close sites during the off-season to give the community a break from visitors.
Create jobs or contracts for the management of sites within the community for local people. No one is a better ambassador than a local person.
Resource enforcement, signage, and information properly so that everyone understands the rules.
Ensure non self-contained campers are in a designated freedom camping area or private camping ground only.
Look more deeply at the availability of land suitable for the activity.
I don’t have a golden bullet or a magic wand to solve the problem, but we must take a far more pragmatic approach to the issue.
This has been an issue that the City Council has not engaged with or supported the community. Protest over changes to food contracts have been met with deaf Council ears. The future of the hospital for the community, University of Otago Medical School and employment is a crucial issue for Dunedin. While its true that the City Council has no control over the management of healthcare in Dunedin, hospital services impact on the well-being of the city on social, economic and community levels. Its time that the Council acted in unison with the community and understood;
The impact of employment in the city through the hospital and the flow on effects of that employment on our local economy.
The importance of the hospital as a teaching and research facility for the Medical School is another area important to the city’s economy and its prestige as an educational leader both nationally and internationally.
Finally, there is the desirability of Dunedin as a place to live, work and to do business in because we have quality healthcare facilities available. All of these factors impact on the Council’s ability to manage, promote and develop Dunedin at a range of levels.
I recently attended the protest regarding the standard of food on a wet Friday afternoon outside of the Dunedin Hospital. I went because a lady from my Community Board area has been seriously ill in hospital and her family have been bringing in meals from home to help build up her strength. Her grandson plays rugby with my son so I’ve been hearing from the family about how her treatment and care has been going on the sidelines lately. To my surprise I saw her in a wheelchair wrapped in a blanket with her family at the protest. I couldn’t help but admire her for taking a stand despite the fact that she has been so dreadfully ill.
In an earlier post I wrote (The Community Compass) that one of the issues with the food problems at the hospital is that local people feel they have lost control of the decision-making process. There is a strong view in the community that the hospital is owned by the community for the community. However, In light of the removal of the SDHB Board by the current government this has become even more pronounced.
One of the biggest disappointments at Fridays protest was the absence of local City Councillors. This was not lost on the crowd who attended, especially when the Mayor of Invercargill, Tim Shadbolt spoke. While its true that the City Council has no control over the management of healthcare in Dunedin, hospital services impact on the well-being of the city on social, economic and community levels. These impacts are also part of the governance and leadership role of the Council in its management of the city. Take for example the impact of employment in the city through the hospital and the flow on effects of that employment on our local economy. The importance of the hospital as a teaching facility for the Medical School is another area important to the city’s economy and its prestige as an educational leader both nationally and internationally. Finally, there is the desirability of Dunedin as a place to live, work and to do business in because we have quality healthcare facilities available. All of these factors impact on the Council’s ability to manage, promote and develop Dunedin at a range of levels. Its time that the Council understood that and acted.
In my opinion, the food issue is a symptom of a much greater problem in healthcare, especially in the way that services are provided in regional centres like Dunedin. Healthcare services transcend political affiliations. All of us at some time in our lives will have whanau, friends and neighbours who will need treatment and care. This returns us back to the fact that this is an issue of how local people have lost the ability to manage the services they require in their own community.
The recent gale force winds that ripped through the city last week were a bleak reminder of just how vulnerable we all are in the face of natural storm events. With damage to infrastructure, power outages and road closures our ability to be resilient in the face of such events was sorely tested. On the Otago Peninsula the storm saw Portobello Road lashed with surging seas that caused flooding and minor slipping. The miracle was that the road was kept opened and some credit must be given to the very busy contract crews for their work.
However, the closure of the alternative Highcliff Rd route is of major concern as we approach winter. The isolation of the Peninsula and its vulnerability to road closures have been well recorded in recent years. By good fortune the alternative routes at Castlewood and Highcliff Roads have been well used during post storm clean ups of slips on Portobello Road. Since the June 2015 floods the Highcliff Road route has been closed and it has caused significant problems and anxiety for the community. The City Council has announced (ODT 14th March) that the Highcliff slip will be tendered shortly. While its easy to criticize Council for the length of time its taken to get to this point, last weeks gales are a poignant reminder of just how urgent this work is for the community. Let’s hope its done very soon.
The Tomahawk Community have expressed long-term concerns over the removal of sand from the beach. In 2015 I met with the Otago Regional Council to discuss those issues and to ask them to provide more information on the issue. One of the things they have agreed is to make their monitoring reports available to me at the Board and the community. For the benefit of the community I have provided the relevant documents here for people to view and disseminate. I’m not going to comment publicly on the issue, but would be interested to hear from the community further on the issue. One further thing, is that in order for the contractor to enter the beach they must cross a section of reserve, hence the City Council must issue a lease document.