“Just slip it in when no-one is watching.” purred Henny.
“Do you really think no one will notice a four hundred percent increase in the cost of your cycleway?” queried Cocky.
“Our cycleway, Cocky, ours. And our legacy for generations to come, always remember that during the unpleasantness ahead.”
“Of course Henny, of course you are right as always; its just….. well.. it is an awful lot of money.”
“Listen to me. We will put it in the agenda for the meeting during the rugby world cup finals and most people will be too distracted to give it too much attention. There will be the odd stirrer but if we just present the facts honestly then they will quieten down. Trust me, Cocky I have studied these people.
“So, we just say, ‘sorry but there will be a four hundred percent budget blowout’?”
“No, no no, no, you silly thing……..
firstly we soften it to a three to four hundred percent increase. Have you got that?”
Cocky nodded sheepishly.
“Then we tell them it is because they have changed the parameters of the project. We are simply responding to their feedback, as a truly democratic council. Yes?”
“Yes” Cocky whispered
“And finally we say it is not an actual increase yet, but we are just alerting them that if they want us to proceed to the standards they demand, then this is what it will cost; but only if that budget is approved; sometime in the future. And that, little Cocky, is what these rugby people would call a slam dunk.”
“So the project may not actually proceed then?” asked Cocky
“Of course it will proceed; it is already proceeding. It is only necessary to tell them about the increase in advance so they cannot complain afterwards. But they don’t vote on the budgets, we do. And the money will follow the project as night follows day; because to stop would be to admit we should not have started and none of the councillors will admit to that. Please just trust me, Cocky.”
And so it came to pass. The notice of the budget blowout was presented to the Council Infrastructure and Networks Committee by Ruth Stokes, DCC General Manager of Infrastructure and Networks on the Thursday before the All Blacks’ semi final with South Africa. It was duly noted by the Committee and the decision made to proceed with the more expensive designs. Whether further funds would be made available would be voted on in coming years, according to Mrs Stokes.
And when the Mayor was duly challenged through the press, he responded (letters to the Editor ODT Sat 7 Nov) that this was not a 3-400% budget blowout, it was simply that the project would cost 3 to 4 times more than they originally thought.
That is a response of which George Bush would be proud. If there is a difference between a blowout of 3-400% and an increase in cost of 3 to 4 times, then it lives only in the marshlands of a muddled mayoral mind.
To summarise: stage 1 of the project for South Dunedin was budgeted at $4.5 million for 25 km of cycleway. By the time it got to 12 kms the cost had reached $5.5 million. So they had to stop and have a think about how to spin that one. Then, because what they did do was such a cock-up, much of it still had to be dismantled and patched up. The transport manager responsible for the logistics of the roll-out suddenly resigned while on a three month holiday in Europe, sacrificial goat is a delicacy in Europe, and he has been replaced by someone from the NZTA, which organisation also appears hellbent on putting cycleways through state highways. Normally the buck stops with the GM, but the man is always wrong and Ruth Stokes, GM infrastructure and networks, lives to fight another day.
And the reason that the original budget of $24 million will rapidly head northwards to $100,000,000 and beyond, is officially noted in the council minutes as being that we, the ratepayers, have demanded the more expensive option. We the ratepayers are therefore responsible for the budget realignment with the new parameters.
Mayor Cull is now saying, “All of our original designs and budgets were based on being total cock-ups, just like the South Dunedin sector. But now you people are demanding the non-cock-up version! Well why didn’t you say so in the first place? But if you are now going to exercise your democratic rights to change the rules and demand a ‘non cock-up’ design, well then my rate-paying friends, that is going to cost you; and cost you big-time. Democracy does not come cheap you know. Let this be a lesson to you all.
But, at the same time, may I nonetheless acknowledge your courage in demanding that the Sir David Cull Cycleway is internationally applauded as the finest example of an urban cycleway on the planet. And we will certainly need this cycleway as, with the interest bill on our projected Council deficit, half of you won’t be able to afford to run a car in ten years time.
Then this cycleway will be seen as truly visionary. Fifty thousand brave citizens cheerfully cycling through rain, sleet and a brisk sou-sou-easterly, up misty hill and down frosty vale, as I pontificate with self-satisfied smugness, that I am leading the good fight against pollution in our fair city. You, ruddy of cheek and riddled with pneumonia, will be doing this because nothing short of the finest non-cock-up cycleway on the planet is acceptable to you. $100 million? $200 million? Who cares? It is just money. A vision such as ours should not be sullied by talk of money.
And then, all going according to plan, I, David Charles Cull, will bend my knee to Her Majesty’s sword and receive the appropriate royal recognition for my vision and leadership.”
And I for one will look forward to that. I hear the Rt. Hon. Sir Jerry has a rather tidy backhand.