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Wait, what, how much?

March 29 2021 by Paul Taylor

Wait, what, how much?
How many of you have read the Queenstown Lakes District Council Ten Year Plan 2021-31?

Sounds super boring, doesn’t it. So boring, I’d imagine some people have already glazed over and stopped reading this editorial.

Council language the world over is an impenetrable mess of jargon and legalese, like a test to see whether you’re invested enough in the future of your community to read to the end of another dry paragraph. It’s 2021 and everyone has the attention span of a scrolling finger, so how about we go for a more click-baitey intro. You’ll never believe how Queenstown leaders are going to spend $1.68 BILLION of your money.

Public consultation on the $1.68 BILLION plan opened the Friday before last, coincidentally the same day Tourism Minister Stuart Nash was in town laying out his vision for a sustainable tourism industry - basically fewer tourists, paying more.
It’s a vision which I’m not sure necessarily supports spending $1.68 BILLION in a district so reliant on the tourist dollar, as has been painfully confirmed over the past 12 months.

When this capital investment programme was first introduced back in 2018, it was $990m, three times larger than any previous plan. Now, in three short years, it’s shot up by almost $700 million. Extra spending includes: $51.3m for a Queenstown Performing Arts Centre, $52.4m for Wanaka Water Treatment, $38.7m for a Resource Recovery Park, $24.2m for the Wanaka Sportsfi eld development.

The average rates rise of 4.3% per year over the 10 years seems reasonable, but that factors in $162.8m from the far-from-certain visitor levy for the final seven years. You can add another 2.3% per annum for those years if it doesn’t get off the ground. Then there’s proposed increases to user charges and the targeted CBD rate. And debt, council debt will rise to $732m by year seven of the plan, although that’s expected to eventually be paid back through development contributions.

The whole epic document runs to 435 pages, although there is a 40-page summary document. So, hook yourself up to a caffeine drip and sit down, preferably next to someone with an accounting degree, and work through the sucker. On p10, 11 and 12 of volume two, you’ll fi nd a line-by-line, year-by-year, costed out detail of every project, from transport upgrades to three waters and community facilities.

It’s big and ambitious, and we can never again accuse QLDC of failing to address infrastructure issues, but as you read it ask yourself one question, a question that’s unpopular in 2021 when Governments print money, and you can buy a Tesla with Bitcoin.
Can we actually afford all this?

- Paul Taylor