Ratepayer poll is way to find indoor centre answer

IT is easy to get the answer you want by the question you ask.

So often petitions ask a simple question requiring a simple answer, but it does not always provide the real answer.

The current indoor centre petition, which asks the question the “undersigned supports an indoor sports centre”, is typical of those hoping to provide an indication to governments and councils of the views of those in the community.

The answer is obvious, because everyone wants an indoor complex.

However, the answer council is seeking from ratepayers is whether they are prepared to pay the extra hike in rates to pay the annual running costs estimated at this early stage to be $1.5m each year over a 40-year lifetime of the propose building.

With only 14,000 rateable properties in the city, this equates to about $80-$100 extra in rates each year.
Petition organisers want 20,000 signatures in 20 days but one councillor said to me there could be 20,000 disappointed people

in the community, who believe by signing the petition, funds will be provided by government grants and council loans to build the centre and that will be end of it.

It is a misguided view that was so obvious last week when a shopper declined an offer to sign the petition in a shop.

When asked why, the shopper pointed out whether the shop assistant realised the indoor centre would come at a cost to ratepayers.

The shocked assistant had no idea and thought the money was coming from government and council, and therein lies the problem.

Some people do not understand there will be an on-going financial commitment for ratepayers.

As well, the petition has been circulated among schools, obviously to boost numbers, where young children have signed the petition despite having no capacity to understand financial details.

Meanwhile, obtaining funding and loans to build the centre is the easy part as repayments can be offset over several decades.

The major problem is running costs and council cannot cover this without a hike in rates and that forms the central part of this issue.

Everyone would love to have a community indoor sports centre to promote our major sports and have an indoor pool for recreation and competition.

But it comes at a price.

Whatever the annual rise in rates is normally, let’s say 4.5pc, the estimated $80-$100/year/ratepayer for the indoor centre will be an additional cost.

To soften the blow council believes if it staggers this additional cost during the four years between now and when the complex is completed it will provide a cash stockpile to absorb costs.

So if your rates are $1000/year and the rate increase is 4.5pc, your rates will rise by $45, but add the facility’s running cost ($80 over four years is $20/year) therefore the rate increase is $65 during that period.

From there the $80 annual cost is absorbed into the normal yearly rate.

What the rate becomes on a year-to-year basis will not be known until all the funding and costs are determined.

A hefty user-pays scheme and high usage will also keep costs down but ultimately ratepayers will foot the bill.

Significantly, annual running costs rise each year and even if held to CPI, it is a constant problem.

Anyone doubting how quickly running costs escalate need look only at the local library.

When it opened in 2009 council claimed it would cost $650,000/year to run.

Within 12 months it had jumped to $1m/year and within four years to $2m before council cut opening hours and staff to keep the ceiling at $2m – for the time being.

Council will keep a tight rein on cost escalation.

Fortunately council is in a good financial position to fund its part of the project with only $3m of debt.

After the financial investigation is done and figures presented for community consultation, perhaps council might be wise to conduct its own poll asking whether ratepayers are prepared to pay extra in rates to have an indoor centre.

Only in this way will council get accurate feedback to make a decision.