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Board to fund 'bricks and mortar' only

June 26th, 2015
[by David Armstrong]

The Motueka Community Board has decided to use its enlarged Special Project fund for "bricks and mortar" projects only, and to disallow formal contributions of project ideas from residents.

The Special Projects fund - from this year about $48,500 per annum - will be gathered from ratepayers via a $10 per year targeted rate for the Motueka Ward. It will enable the Community Board to choose and fund Motueka-only projects that are low on TDC plans. (See our story yesterday.)

The proposed guidelines for administering the fund, drafted by TDC senior managers, were significantly amended by the board at its meeting last night, removing the process for residents to submit proposals for consideration in the Board's annual plan.

Without that section of the guidelines, it will now be up to only the Community Board members to decide for themselves which projects will be put up for community vote, and these will mainly be for "bricks and mortar" projects, a term which was used many times during the debate.

As explained in yesterday's article on Motueka Online, the proposed guidelines had suggested that the final list for spending the Special Projects fund would contain a mix of ideas from the Community Board members along with costed and justified proposals put up annually by ordinary residents, much as what happens with TDC's annual planning process.

This idea, which would allow the Board to include projects that have broader community benefits than just low-priority Council jobs, was strongly endorsed at the previous Board meeting by TDC Mayor Richard Kempthorne, and followed up by the Community Development Department.

As at present, the Special Projects fund would remain different from the Board's existing Discretionary Fund system, where smaller amounts are approved (or not) for community groups who apply at most meetings.

Led by Cliff Satherley, several board members last night argued that opening up the Special Projects fund to ideas and requests from the public would result in all sorts of non-essential projects being put forward by community groups, lots of hard decisions to argue over and make, and basically a waste Board members' time.

They said that the Special Project fund should be used only for work that is low on TDC's planning list but are high priority for Motueka ratepayers - that is, "bricks and mortar". Apart from exceptional circumstances, this means the fund cannot be used for anything that is not already on TDC's Annual Plan and Long Term Plan lists.

Under these criteria it would mean that, for instance, the four murals painted in central Motueka over the past three years would never have happened, nor would the pedestrian refuge between New World and The Warehouse, or maybe not even the litter cart collection. All these so far have been paid from the Special Project fund, but have never been on the council list.

Apart from some serious reservations put forward by Board member David Ogilvie, the motion to strip the section about community input from the guidelines was passed.


Further comment by David Armstrong:
[Posted 24 June 2015]

Normally I do not put personal opinions into my monthly reports of Community Board meetings. However, for only the second time in the past five years of reporting on these meetings, I must add further comment based on my opinion.

I am deeply disappointed by this decision, for several reasons. My biggest disappointment is largely philosophical and strategic. The Board has thrown away the biggest opportunity it's had in years, and maybe will ever get, to gain greater autonomy and say around future developments of the town.

Frequently at Board meetings over the years I've heard complaints about how little the Board is listened to by Council, that TDC makes almost all the decisions about what projects it will do and then keeps funding out of areas that are not core responsibility of Council.

Now (or until last night), with the encouragement of the Mayor, the board was offered a sound and efficient framework for managing not only promotion of lower priority Council jobs such as fixing footpaths and toilet blocks, but also community-oriented projects that will advance the town into the future and are not just 'bricks and mortar'.

For reasons that, after reflecting upon the meeting, I still cannot fathom, the Board has decided to just stick with helping the Council to get some of its engineering jobs done a few years earlier than otherwise. Where is the vision in that? Where is the community leadership? Where is the autonomy?

I was also deeply unsettled by the lack of thought and understanding to separate out the Special Project fund process from the Board's Discretionary Fund process, which are two totally separate funds. The latter is where community groups can apply month by month for funds up to $500 for special work or events they need help with, based upon a few simple forms and voted at Board meetings.

Despite it being explained several times otherwise last night, a couple of Board members kept repeating that allowing community requests to enter the Special Projects fund process would mean - to paraphrase terms used during the debate - that every Tom, Dick and Harry could rock up with a demand for $10,000 for a favourite project whenever they wanted. They said that this would give them so much work to do that it would be just too much of a pain. I wondered if this confusion of the funds was a deliberate strategy to deflect the issue.

Given that the guidelines suggested by TDC would have meant such proposals would be considered once a year with very strict rules about documentation and what was within criteria, to turn down for this reason was purely and simply laziness in my opinion, plus an unwillingness to engage with the public.

Sadly, I can also imagine that at least some people in Council will be rubbing their hands knowing that they can push minor Motueka projects further down their priority list and therefore seeing them done using funds from the Community Board's Special Project targeted rate fund.

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