Designs for two new Far North dog pounds have been sent back to the drawing board after the potential cost blew out by millions of dollars.
The Far North District Council planned to build a new animal shelter with space for 52 dogs at Ngāwhā, east of Kaikohe, and rebuild its dilapidated pound at Kaitaia on the existing Bonnett Rd site.
Plans for the new pounds have been completed but the estimated building costs are many times higher than the amount set aside by the council.
The council is not releasing the exact figures, which were discussed behind closed doors in an extraordinary council meeting last Thursday, but the Northern Advocate understands the budget blowout for the two pounds is in the millions of dollars.
As a result councillors have put the brakes on both projects and called on staff to come up with more cost-effective proposals.
The review comes just as attacks by wandering dogs are back in the spotlight with two children mauled in Moerewa and more stock killed in Waipapa in recent weeks.
Just under $700,000 had been budgeted for the Ngāwhā pound in the 2018-19 financial year, but the cost estimate for building the proposed design is understood to be many times that.
The estimate for rebuilding the Kaitaia pound, which was supposed to happen before Christmas, is also significantly higher than the $650,000 set aside.
As well as putting the two projects on hold, councillors voted to increase the overall budget to $2.5 million.
Part of the reason for the cost blowout was said to be meeting specifications agreed with animal welfare groups.
Mayor John Carter said the Far North needed fit-for-purpose pounds — but the council also had a duty to spend ratepayers' money wisely.
"We've asked staff to review costs of the current designs, look at what other councils have achieved with less and develop new options that represent better value for money."
The council remained committed to complying with animal welfare rules and was grateful for input from the SPCA, Ministry of Primary Industries and Bay of Islands Watchdogs.
"We've done a lot of work developing proposals that are a big improvement on our existing facilities. We want to assure these groups that design elements that focus on animal welfare will remain part of the specification," Carter said.
Leonie Exel, spokeswoman for lobby group Bay of Islands Watchdogs, said she was relieved councillors were reviewing the plans, and cost effectiveness, of the proposed new pounds.
She hoped it was the start of the council ''waking up to serious issues in its animal management hierarchy'', which included spending $100,000 on a temporary pound on private land at Horeke before a contract had been signed. That investment would be lost once the council built a permanent pound, she said.
''The Watchdogs are angry that ratepayers' money is being spent this way. As a comparison, there is currently a fully operational, consented dog boarding kennel for sale in Kaikohe for $680,000.''
It was ironic that council management, who had claimed the Watchdogs wanted a ''gold standard'' pound, seemed to be wasting money on temporary facilities and designing excessively complicated buildings, Exel said.
The council has been dogged by problems with its pounds at least since the early 2000s, when plans for a $1 million dog shelter on Kaikohe aerodrome land were thrown out after an outcry over costs and consultation.
The Kaitaia pound opened in 1989 but deteriorated to the point where in 2017 the SPCA ordered improvements around record keeping, visual barriers between cages and daily exercise.
The district's southern pound was run by contractor Sue Dennis at her home in Okaihau for eight years. When she resigned, also in 2017, the council scrambled to set up a temporary shelter in Horeke.
A bequest in 2016 was to have paid for a joint SPCA-council facility but that plan fell over when the will was contested.
When the latest projects were announced in mid-2018 the Kaitaia pound was to have been rebuilt by the end of this month and the Ngāwhā pound was to have been finished by the end of this year on land bought from power company Top Energy.