Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Council opts to spend big, raise rates

A new $34 million headquarters for the Waikato Regional Council has been given the green light as the council sets rate increases for the next three years.

The council yesterday voted 8-4 in secret to go ahead with the new build in 2015 and will consult with the public in March as part of its Long Term Plan over whether to lease or own the proposed four to six storey 7000sq m building.

Yesterday's discussion was part of the council's four-day draft long-term plan process, during which it struck a rate increase of 3.9 per cent for next year and proposed a 3.4 per cent increase in the subsequent two years.

After months of secret meetings, the regional council finally went public with plans to build a $34 million headquarters on the council-owned site on the corner of Cook and Grey Sts, despite the Herald first revealing the plans in November. The council refused to discuss the plans earlier citing commercial sensitivity.

The council decided against starting work this year due to difficulties terminating the lease three years early with Eastside Tavern and Liquorland, currently operating businesses on the site.

The council has defended the big spend saying merging staff presently housed in four different offices into one would increase productivity and reduce maintenance and other costs.

It also signalled a preference to own the building because it would be a good public investment and give the council certainly around costs.

The building would be funded through debt or an investment fund. The cost of leasing it was estimated at about $3 million a year.

Proceeds from the sale of the council's present headquarters at 401 Grey St would go towards the new build.

Waikato Regional Council chairman Peter Buckley said there was still much work needed to determine the operating and functional requirements of the council. He expected to have better cost estimates when this was completed.

However the Rates Control Team unsuccessfully argued it was not the right time to be committing to such a large spend in tough economic times. Councillor Jane Hennebry said they could not agree to the spend when people were really hurting. She said ratepayers didn't just have a choice about owning or leasing the building - they could also say no altogether.

"In our plan we're coming out to the public with talk about austerity measures and in one part of the plan preaching that and in the other going along with business as usual."

- NZ Herald

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