Carter supports council asset sales to cap rates

PLUS: The local government minister has some advice for the Christchurch council, promises post-Kim Dotcom donation reform; and suggests Auckland mayor Len Brown has been over-stepping the mark.

Local Government Minister David Carter “would support” council asset sales to maintain funding as rates caps are introduced by a pending law change, expected within months.

"Iff they had shares in an airport or shares in a port company, they may well decide they could sell down some of those shares to help them provide the infrastructure which their community’s demanding of them,” Mr Carter told Greg Boyed on TV One's Q&A.

With rates limits, the minister says more user charges could also be introduced.

He insisted councils will still get to decide rates and spending levels, denying power grab by government.

“It is still the responsibility of the council to engage with its community and find out what services that community wants,” Mr Carter said.

However, he qualified that "if a council was proposing to put up its rates by 2% or 3% or 4% above inflation, we [in central government] want to know why they’re doing that so we have the ability to intervene”.

“We want to put some financial tests and thresholds on to local government so that they must justify their rate increases, justify their debt increases.”

As a minister and ratepayer, Mr Carter says Christchurch City Council “needs to think carefully about rationalising some of those assets”.

Dotcom effect
Mr Carter hopes to reform mayoral declarations in wake of controversy over Kim Dotcom's two $25,000 donations to ACT MP John Banks:

“I think when you look at local government, there’s no reason to me why the rules should be different [from central government],” he said.

The minister says he will to introduce law change this year to bring more transparency to local-government campaign donations.

“We’re certainly going to get local government to be far more focused on what activities it undertakes.”

A little too super
The government says the pending law change capping rates rises will re-focus councils on core services.

Asked to define core services, the minister said “rates and rubbish and water, et cetera”.

Mr Carter said there was some scope beyond that.

"We are not saying that councils can only do core services. If you take my Christchurch City Council, for example, and it runs the Ellerslie Flower Show in Hagley Park.

"You could argue that’s not a core service.

"The council has determined that there is value in delivering that show for the people of Christchurch, and, frankly, I meet a lot of people on planes who are travelling from all over New Zealand to come to that.

"The council’s decision is to run the Ellerslie Flower Show, and that is a decision for the council to make. It’s certainly not a decision for central government to make or for myself as minister.”

But while praising the Garden City's initiative, he was not so sold on those of the Auckland Council, led by Len Brown.

“I think Auckland is stepping too far when it’s starting to be involved in the NCEA levels and greenhouse gas emissions, et cetera," Mr Carter said.

"That is more a central government function.” 

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