Far North ratepayers are being asked to have their say on a council proposal to take over ownership of a Kerikeri performing arts centre.
The Turner Centre, which opened in 2005, was built on Far North District Council land but the building itself was paid for and is owned by a charitable trust.
It is said to be the best performing arts venue north of Auckland, and the reason many national and international acts make it to the Far North.
However, the trust is struggling to catch up financially after two years of Covid restrictions scuttled shows and slashed audiences, and its list of overdue maintenance work is continuing to grow.
Now the council is proposing to take over ownership of the building, leaving the trust in charge of organising events and day-to-day management only.
The council wouldn’t pay for the building but would be responsible for ongoing costs such as maintenance, insurance and power, adding an estimated 0.3 per cent to the average Far North rates bill.
While 0.3 per cent isn’t much - about $7.60 extra on the average Far North rates bill of $2542* - the proposal comes as the council is considering an overall rates increase of 8.6 per cent.
The wider context includes controversy about council funding of facilities in neighbouring Whangārei, such as the Hundertwasser Arts Centre, and possibly a new conference centre at Ōruku Landing.
Far North Kahika (Mayor) Moko Tepania said the district risked losing the Turner Centre if there was no change to the way it operated.
The proposal, if adopted, would see the council take on ownership and operational costs.
“The charitable trust that operates the centre can then focus on what it does best - delivering arts programming to our district,” he said.
Turner Centre general manager Gerry Paul said without council support, the venue was likely to close in the next few years.
Since 2005, the centre had presented more than 2000 shows and hosted thousands more community meetings, hui, rehearsals, festivals, trade shows, wānanga, competitions and conferences.
However, in 2020-21, Covid-19 severely affected the centre’s ability to bring in revenue.
In 2022 the number of events reduced to 420 - with community groups given discounts worth $150,000 - but the centre still faced a long list of deferred maintenance and badly-needed upgrades.
Paul said community members rallied in the early 2000s to raise the money to build the “world-class” theatre and community centre.
Building a similar facility today would cost about $150 million.
“Without the Turner Centre, many international and national artists wouldn’t visit the Far North. As with most performing arts and community facilities around the country and the world, the centre isn’t financially sustainable on its own and currently runs at a deficit.”
That deficit was roughly equal to the centre’s annual maintenance and operational costs, he said.
The council is also consulting on a proposed rates remission policy which would allow Māori freehold landowners to apply for reduced rates for a set period, if they intend to develop their land for housing.
Consultation on both proposals closes on April 24, with oral submissions on May 17. Councillors will debate the proposals and the total rate increase ahead of the draft Annual Plan being adopted on June 22.
Go to www.fndc.govt.nz/annualplan to find more information, make a submission or take part in a poll.
* 2022 average rates figure sourced from the Taxpayers’ Union’s Ratepayer Report. The Taxpayers’ Union is a right-wing lobby group.