Wellington councillor suggests staff cuts to fund water pipes fix

Jemima Huston for RNZ

An independent councillor wants to cut staff numbers at the council to help pay for Wellington's broken pipes.

Mayor Tory Whanau told RNZ on Monday she was open to some council projects being put on hold to pay for urgent work on the city's pipes.

She said all projects were on the table, including the town hall upgrade, due to the seriousness of the issue.

Other city councillors said there were plenty of cost-wasting projects that could go on the backburner.

Councillor Nicola Young wants the council to consider cutting staff to help fund the water network.

"I'd also follow the government's example and look at where we've had the biggest staff increases since, I don't know, 2019 and start looking at percentage reductions in staffing levels," she said.

"Staffing is our biggest cost and we've got to make sure it's really delivering what we need when the money is so desperately needed for water."

The right-leaning representative said there were also council projects she would like to see go - such as the Kilbirnie skate park and the "Our Wellington" publication.

That was because she did not want ratepayers to face the full brunt of fixing the pipes.

"I think the council is doing too much and we have to work out what our priorities are and thin down the number of projects. We're spreading ourselves too thinly and ratepayers can't afford it".

Councillors Tony Randle and Iona Pannett wanted to stop big transport projects they felt had blown out of proportion and did not improve the city's road network.

"I would stop the Thorndon Quay and Hutt Road projects because I don't think they add any value", said Randle.

Pannett said the city's Golden Mile could be "descoped".

"I mean look, you could put up a traffic resolution process for a couple of hundred grand rather than $140m."

Pannett would also like to see the government pitch in to help pay for the pipes.

"Three waters reform was supposed to help to solve this. It's not coming. Just cutting like, the town hall, is not going to provide you enough money."

But left-leaning councillor Rebecca Matthews said halting the town hall upgrade would be top of her priority list.

"Definitely the amount of money compared to the public use of the building really was my key argument, and it's been closed for quite a long time and the city is coping. Whereas clearly with the leaks people are wanting us to do a bit more prioritisation."

Randle said it was probably cheaper to finish the town hall upgrade than to stop it.

He said the projects on the table to be put on hold or cut to help fund fixing the water network were those that would save the council money.

"Don't get me wrong, I would stop it in a flash if I thought there was a saving to be made because I think that's really been an example of a project that has gone totally out of control and we're not going to get good value for money, even though we're probably going to get a really great town hall."

Pannett and Young agreed work on the town hall had to continue.

Wellington City Council meets on Wednesday to workshop options to increase funding to fix the leaks.