Friday, June 10, 2011

Get over it

A friend of mine was at a function in the North Island last week, when someone asked him how he'd been affected by the earthquake. Before he could answer, a man standing with the group groaned loudly and said "oh I'm f***ing sick of hearing about the earthquake!". Not quite knowing what to say in reply, my friend simply turned on his heel and walked away.

I guess I can understand how people elsewhere may be suffering from 'earthquake fatigue'. It's old news to them now, the crisis is past and we Cantabrians should all just get over it and move on with our lives, right?

If only it were that easy. When I talk about us living in a constantly changing environment, it's not just the ground that's in upheaval. Our business & political landscape is also in constant motion, and the implications of February's quake are yet to become clear in some areas. Our city's finances have been hugely impacted by the damage to infrastructure and the sudden loss of many income streams - this applies to individual people and businesses as well as the city council.
Many of the details - issues & suggestions - are contained in the council's draft annual plan (available here, large file = long download) which I actually sat down and read through a couple of nights ago. As a home-owner and ratepayer I don't always stay up to date with the intricacies of local government but with all that's going on at the moment (a large proportion of which directly affects me & mine), I figured it would be wise to be informed. There will be opportunities coming up very soon for us to make submissions on this draft annual plan and until this morning I was thinking about commenting on two areas that directly concern me - rates rebates & Vbase.

Earlier this year (even without a letter of demolition) we were able to satisfy the council that we qualified for a rates rebate on our house, as it was uninhabitable thanks to the September quake. That rebate ends on June 30th, which is not very far away. According to the draft annual plan, staff recommend a course of action that would see rates rebates only available to those whose homes or businesses are still behind the cordon. The rates on my uninhabitable home would go back up to 100% until such time as it was finally demolished. I know there are a million things that need fixing around here but why should owners of totally munted suburban homes bear a full rates burden? In fact, we're paying twice over - on our own dodgy dwelling, and via the rates our landlord pays on the rental property we're currently living in.

The other issue that concerns me has lead to another concerning issue. Sound circular? You bet it is. Implications of the earthquake can be slow to play out. Plans and decisions rest on other plans and decisions being made beforehand, and these things take time. Both hubby & I work for Vbase (the company that manages the 4 big venues in Chch), him full-time and me on a casual basis. With 3 of 4 venues out of action for a considerable period, it is clear that it will not be business as usual for a long time and the company has been working on new operational plans for these changed circumstances.

But Vbase is ultimately a council-owned company and as such, its operating terms and conditions are at the discretion of those who hold the purse strings. Vbase has borrowed heavily to finance the redevelopment of AMI stadium, in order to get it ready for the Rugby World Cup. The Vbase business plan has taken a hit not only from lost income opportunities and large repair bills, there have also been changes to depreciation rules which have shifted the financial goalposts.

Even before the February earthquake the council had been discussing the options for Vbase, and in the draft annual plan they recommend transferring $45million of debt to the council and leaving the business/asset structure unchanged. But in the paper this morning it seems a different intent is emerging, which raises some interesting issues. Council chief executive Tony Marryatt is advocating another option, that would see the operations of Vbase turned over to the council for an unspecified time period while the venues were repaired. This has now been confirmed by a press release.

It is possible now that we could see a large proportion of the management team & office staff gone and many other workers forced to reapply for their jobs. I'm not sure of the logic behind this decision, especially seeing as it flies counter to the recommendation in the draft annual plan... the same plan that is yet to open for consultation but was discussed behind closed doors at today's council meeting.

There's a meeting for Vbase staff on Monday, in which the management team will set out their plan for the immediate future. With the impending transfer of operations to the council, that future is very short-term indeed.

Dear city council
Your people take part in the consultative process with the hope that their voice will be heard.
After what I've seen and heard today I fear that all the decisions have been made already, against recommendations, and without anyone apart from the chief executive & the council members being able to speak for or against.

Consultation... yeah right.

Yours etc,
A concerned citizen & ripped-off ratepayer.

No comments:

Post a Comment