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Councils lukewarm on penny-pinching proposals

Sheep have been suggested as a cost-effective solution. PHOTOS/FILE

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Councils have been told to save money by turning down the heating in offices, using sheep as lawnmowers, and letting cafes and restaurants double as public toilets.

These are just three of the suggestions in ‘102 Ways to Save Money in Local Government’, a report put forward by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union last week – which admittedly, “range from the common-sense to
the novel”.

All measures, big or small, were designed to save money and take pressure off ratepayers.

The union has recommended council staff quit cranking the heat pump in the office, and keep warm by layering-up instead to conserve money on power bills.

But Wairarapa’s councils are lukewarm on most of the ideas.

South Wairarapa District Council chief executive, Paul Crimp said it maintained a “prudent” temperature in its offices.

“Staff, and visitors, have to work in a comfortable environment. The environment cannot be either too hot, or too cold.

“Both are counterproductive.”

Carterton mayor John Booth said its events centre had managed to save half its power bill by being conscious about energy efficiency.

“However, it is also important to maintain warm buildings during the cold winter months for the health and well-being of staff and customers.”

The taxpayers’ union also proposed cattle and sheep could graze on some council land, rather than spending money on cutting grass.

Auckland Council has successfully grazed sheep at Cornwall Park on One Tree Hill.

Booth said because Carterton district stretched along State Highway 2, grazing cattle and sheep on council-owned land would not be appropriate.

“In most cases the cost to fence the stock, health and safety related issues, potential road and stock movements would all outweigh the potential cost saving benefits.”

Crimp said SWDC already used stock to graze some of its stock holding paddocks and other areas – but had to draw a line somewhere.

“It is inappropriate to use stock to keep the grass down on our other amenity and sports fields.”

The union suggested another plug to spending – “Stop providing free lunches and booze for councillors”.

Masterton District Council’s manager of finance David Paris said providing food at council meetings was far more time-efficient than having long breaks for councillors and staff to find their own meal.

He said council policy permitted alcohol to be available after formal council meetings, but the costs were required by policy to be “modest”.

Booth said Carterton District Council also kept lunches “modest”.

“Food items are sourced from our local supermarket and prepared in-house. We do not have many occasions where alcohol is provided.”

Public toilets represent low value for money, The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union say. PHOTO/ CAL ROBERTS

Crimp said SWDC provided a light lunch, with biscuits for morning and afternoon tea at council meetings, and on a few other occasions.

“In the time we usually allow for lunchbreaks, councillors would not have time to leave the building and purchase lunch and consume it by the time we would be due to reconvene.”

He said SWDC did not provide alcohol, “unless there is a council function, and then in very moderate amounts, in terms of our licence”.

The report states public restrooms can be poor value for money – in terms of maintenance costs compared with how often they are used.

“A better arrangement may be to pay bars/cafes a small fee for agreeing to allow members of the public to use their loos free of charge.”

Paris said it was “impractical” to suggest shops could provide the same level of service as MDCs public toilets.

“We aren’t investing in any new ones, but rather upgrading the facilities we currently have.”

Booth said there was no need to burden business owners with the responsibility.

“Carterton is in the fortunate position of having a suitable supply of public toilets . . . However, I can see how this may be beneficial to other districts or cities around New Zealand.”

Crimp said new public toilets were a necessity in South Wairarapa.

“Where we have built new toilet facilities, there are no cafes.”

Overall, Booth said the report contained some reasonable ways that councils could save on costs.

“We will always continue to find ways to demonstrate good value for money for our ratepayers.”

More cost-effective LED streetlights on Essex Street, Masterton, with the traditional sodium lights on Chapel Street behind.

Paris said the report held some great initiatives MDC had already undertaken – “for example, transitioning to LED lighting”.

He said the union’s recommendation to conserve water by detecting leaks was a big part of MDCs Long-Term Plan.

Crimp said SWDC was aware of the burden rates had on its ratepayers, and continually looked for the most cost-effective ways to function.

“Being a small local authority, any excesses would be noticeable.”

Top-10 cost-saving measures for councils, as suggested by the Taxpayers’ Union

1 Pay back council debt.

2 Mayors, councillors and chief executives should encourage council staff to suggest efficiencies.

3 Stop providing free lunches and booze for councillors.

4 Don’t fund or join Chambers of Commerce [Chambers of Commerce and other business groups are supposed to keep councillors and the council accountable – they are undermined by accepting funds from the council].

5 Publish all accounts payable transactions.

6 Where appropriate use cattle and sheep to graze on council land rather than spending money on grass cutting.

7 Remember that voluntary and community groups as well as private firms may offer a better means of providing a service than the council’s own workforce, for instance in providing programmes to at-risk youth.

8 Conserve water and save on water costs by proactively detecting leaks in the water network.

9 Require end of year reports from groups which councils fund. How have ratepayers benefited from what the group used the money for?

10 Scrap political advisers.

  • A full list of the taxpayer’s union suggestions can be seen at: taxpayers.org.nz/102_ways


  1. Why can’t they bring their lunches just like WORKERS do .Oh I forgot .They are on the gravy train.

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