I am a big advocate of Council focusing on core public services and infrastructure. I believe Council should first get these services right before even thinking about other non-essential services.
Core public services are those that all residents require including but not limited to refuse & recycling, waste & stormwater, roads & transportation, parking and the like.
Having lived in Tauranga all my life, I have been aware that our City Council has, over the years, gotten more and more involved in non-essential services, establishing what is called Council-Controlled-Organisations (CCO's) to manage these services.
Speedway, swimming & hot pools, holiday parks, tourism organisations and art galleries are not my definition of essentials. These CCO's are constantly in my radar especially those which cost ratepayers money year in and year out.
I am not against these organisations or the provision of these services. In fact, I believe these services make us a better and more interesting city. Some of them are necessary for different reasons.
What I am dissatisfied with is the loss-making record, the cavalier attitudes and nonchalant culture trickling down from top management. There is a lacking sense of responsibility in creating a profitable business that is not funded by ratepayers and there is an underlying expectation that Council will always bail them out with more money.
If these organisations were regular businesses, they would have gone bust ages ago. But as CCO's, Council just keeps pumping more money into these loss-making entities. You don't have to be a Councillor to know that they are not lean organisations.
What is not profitable is really a liability to the city and its ratepayers. If it were left up to me, I would privatise some of these CCO's because I believe that would make them more productive and function like a regular business that must be profitable to exist. That is not taking the easy way out. I just don't believe Tauranga City Council has the long-term financial ability to keep funding these loss-making organisations without compromising funding for public infrastructure which must remain Council's priority. When rate increases are capped, something has to give.
I have been a part of the Tauranga City Council for just over 6 months and much earlier on, I had made my views known in Council. Unfortunately my views to have some CCO's removed from our books are not shared by most Councillors. I do however believe that part of the reason why is because the process would be just too hard.
Here I learnt of a policy that is illogical to me. In simple terms, the policy says that the purchase of land or assets is an insignificant matter but its sale is a significant matter that must be put out to the public. In other words, we can buy or set them up as we deem fit but we cannot sell or shut them down easily even if it was a dud that costs the ratepayers money.
So we have them. What are we going to do with them in ways that benefit the city and ratepayers? How can we measure the economic, if not financial, returns that CCO's bring to our city for the funding that they receive from Council?
It may be early in my tenure yet but I am going to keep putting the pressure on the CCO's to perform economically and financially. If I am not able to garner support for their privatisation, I will make sure they are constantly on Council's radar just as they are on mine and I will make sure that they be accountable.