Council critic eyes spending

By Mike Barrington

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A Whangarei District Council proposal to move from Forum North to leased premises is another bad chapter in the council's property logbook, according to accountant and former WDC councillor Wally Yovich.

He has written to remind the present council the WDC paid $2.3 million to the Northland Regional Council seven years ago for the former Northland Harbour Board headquarters at the Whangarei Town Basin and the building had been vacant ever since.

"At the same time the WDC leased premises at Walton Plaza on which it spent $1.5 million on fit-out and for which it has been paying rent of around $800,000 a year," he said. "Also, it has leased Civic Arcade premises for around $300,000 a year."

Mr Yovich said council operating costs were excessive. The solution would be to reduce staff and cut bureaucracy and operating costs, and there should then be no need for additional office space. He considered the 350 now on the payroll to be excessive.

The council's group manager support services, Alan Adcock, said the WDC agreed with Mr Yovich that it should always look to operate more efficiently, and that was why it was looking to move into one building.

"While Mr Yovich's figures are considerably overstated, we do want to keep our operating expenses as low as we can. In fact, our costs in these areas are being maintained at similar levels to those in 2006 and staff numbers are constantly monitored," Mr Adcock said.

There were restrictions on how the council could use endowment property, he said. "That's why we consulted with the community on this first, and then got full approval from the Minister of Local Government."

Mr Yovich was also critical of the council borrowing from its property fund and not paying interest on the loans. "The council has deferred $26 million of projects, made a $300,000 unauthorised payment for the Northland Athletics Stadium and talks of a $161 million debt level, but conveniently forgets the additional monies borrowed from its property fund," Mr Yovich said.

On February 28 the council had external debt of $156 million, and internal borrowing of $19 million, Mr Adcock said.

The council will today consider amending its Long Term Plan to enable a move from Forum North to leased premises should that be required.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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