Expecting ratepayers to fork out an extra $2.1 million dollars for the War Memorial Theatre without asking if they support the decision is unacceptable according to District Councillor Manu Caddie.
Mr Caddie was responding to news that the War Memorial Theatre upgrade will cost $9.6m instead the $7.17m budgeted and approved in Council’s Ten Year Plan.
Staff and some councillors are recommending an extra $2.1million is borrowed because debt is lower than forecast and the expense is ‘therefore affordable’ and ‘not luxurious’.
“I beg to differ. Spending an extra $2million of ratepayers money really needs to go to them before a decision is made” said Mr Caddie.
“The community was told 70 percent of the Theatre funds would come from external sources, now it looks like that could drop to closer to 50 percent and $4.25m worth of rates would be used to make up the difference.”
“The Theatre is a important part of our civic infrastructure and used by many parts of the community, but it now has a much higher price tag than the $6.8m estimated in 2011 and the $7.2m approved in the Ten Year Plan last year.”
Mr Caddie says he could be agreeable to upping the Council contribution to 33 percent which would require $1,050,000 of loan funds, but still believes it would require a special consultative procedure if the decision was to be made before the next Ten Year Plan.
“We couldn’t find even $15,000 for the Skate Park, a Council-owned asset that is used by more people in one weekend than the War Memorial Theatre sees in a month, so I really can’t stomach committing over $2million without proper public consultation.”
“While the loan swaps we are locked into may mean there are advantages in spending on bringing projects forward, we really need to get some sense of the cost for replacing Council administration buildings before rushing into unplanned spending.”
Mr Caddie says Council should go back to the organisations that have granted funds for the project so far.
“First we need to explain that the project has cost a huge amount more than the best estimates we got in 2011 and see if they are willing to add up to 25 percent to their grant to help cover the difference. If that is not an option then we need to explain it may take require longer than expected to secure the funds. The project is not planned to be completed until 2016 so we have some time still.”
Mr Caddie said he is impressed with the external funds secured by Council staff and the War Memorial Theatre Trust and would be willing to help find the additional funds required from external sources.
The matter will be debated by Council at their meeting next Thursday 5 September.