Nearly $60,000 of applications was received from community groups in this second round. Who were the winners and who were the losers? Let’s see …
Well, the biggest winner by far was the Board itself! Board members managed to deprive community groups of $33,000 of funding in favour of transferring the money to their own discretionary Events Fund. This makes it much easier for the Board to fund their organisations of choice - such as the Waste Resources Trust and other Green party associates.
The next big slice of the cake, a whopping $20,000 and way more than any other local event, goes to the Waiheke Walking Festival. This festival was the brainchild of green activist Council Parks officer Gary Wilton and his friend Jenness Reeve (they went to the same school). The Festival showcases over 80 kilometres of walking tracks paid for by the ratepayer. Around 3000 people attend, mostly locals, with Auckland, national and international visitors making up about 20% of the total numbers. $20,000 for 600 visitors equates to a ratepayer subsidy of over $30 a head. Island businesses generally donate towards the cost of the opening ceremony and the Festival website asks the public to make monetary donations. So, where does ratepayers’ money go? Well, the organisers pay a co-ordinator (it was Jenness Reeve in the past) and the rest goes on advertising and marketing. Value for money? Not in my book.
The next successful applicant defies logic - $2000 for the ‘Ask Church’ to run a Skate Competition. The application is made under the umbrella of the ‘Anne Audain Trust’, although a search of the companies’ office records shows no such Trust exists. Anne Audain is a well-known New Zealand athlete, but enquiries previously made by an island resident about the legitimacy of the entity that bears her name have resulted in her assertion that she has no knowledge of this Trust. The name behind the so-called Trust is, in fact, Sergio Rodriguez who is pastor of the one-man ‘Ask Church’ and shares the fundamentalist church leanings of some Board members.
On its website, the church claims association with the Assembly of God.
Tourism plays a huge part in the Waiheke economy and employment, so one would expect that community groups organising local events that bring visitors to the island would receive support from the Waiheke Local Board. Historically, the Board has awarded $10,000 to Headland Sculpture on the Gulf (HSOG), which attracts around 50,000 visitors, mostly from off-island. That’s a subsidy of 20 cents per head, plus the use of a couple of kilometres of Council owned walking tracks. Good value for ratepayers’ money considering the world-wide publicity the event attracts. It also meets the requirements of the Local Government Act that says local government must be ‘cost effective and efficient’. Whether this Local Board continued the support is unclear in the published local budgets.
Another worthy event is the Waiheke Vintage Festival. Last year this attracted over 5000 visitors, mainly from off-island. Their application for funding of $2345 towards the cost of the opening ceremony was declined. They were similarly refused funding last year.
But the biggest loser was the Waiheke Community Art Gallery which, for the fifth time, had its request denied by this Board. The Waiheke Community Art Gallery, as well as being the driving force behind the internationally successful HSOG, holds many events throughout the year that enhance Waiheke’s reputation as an ‘Island of Art’. The Gallery attracts more visitors (mostly international and off-island) than any other regionally funded gallery, except the Auckland Art Gallery itself. Throughout the year, Gallery representatives have asked the Board for modest sums to support these events, but sadly their requests fall on deaf ears.
Their latest bid was for a $7000 contribution towards a Winter Arts Festival and Matariki Exhibition. Previously, they had requested funds towards their centennial WWI exhibition to which volunteers have dedicated hundreds of hours. Ironically, the Local Board is now advertising for groups wanting money towards WWI commemorations. Go figure! Sadly, Board member Shirin Brown, self-proclaimed champion of the arts, also voted to deny the funding.
What is clear is that the well known, short-sighted, anti-tourism bias of this Local Board is reflected in its handling of ratepayers’ money. What we have is a reluctance to help community organisations that bring visitors to Waiheke. Instead we have a Board that gives money to its mates. It’s a poor reflection on local government and why this ‘green’ local board should never be allowed to go it alone.