The cost of Whangārei District Council's controversial civic centre could blow out to $48 million if councillors next week vote to go ahead with a new, much larger building design.
The new super-sized building would mean a $10m or 26.3 per cent cost increase for ratepayers.
WDC's 14 councillors will vote on Thursday whether to go for a new $48m enlarged 7000sq m building or stay with the $38m 5500sq m option already committed to just 20 months ago – by the previous council.
A $48m option equates to $1860 per residential ratepayer – based on an average of $62 per year to be repaid over a 30-year debt repayment period. A $38m centre equates to $1380 per residential ratepayer – an average of $46 per year.
The proposed $10m building upsize – without public consultation – has raised the ire of Whangārei 2019 mayoral candidate Tony Savage.
"I accept that there's a lot of growth around Whangārei district and that's a good thing. But $10m is a lot of money and ratepayers need to know more about why that's necessary."
Savage said public consultation on the upsizing could start as early as mid-March.
Consultation results could go back to council four months later for a decision on the $10m upsizing spend. Building start delay might be as short as only five months.
Savage said public consultation was important, even if it meant holding up the centre's construction and brought the risk of an increase in related building contingency costs.
"I know public consultation is a pain in the arse to do but it's so important for engagement in local government and local democracy in general."
The new building will replace the council's existing Forum North civic centre opened in 1968, more than half a century ago. Building is scheduled to begin before the end of the year, and be completed by June 2022.
Alan Adcock, WDC corporate services manager, said the agenda item about the upsizing was being put to the council meeting after it became obvious a bigger facility, over and above that initially planned for, was required.
He said the potential upsizing and $10m involved did not trigger council's significance and engagement criteria. It did not therefore need to go out for public consultation - but councillors could still decide at Thursday's meeting to proceed with public consultation.
He said much of the upsized centre's extra cost would be absorbed by Whangārei district's population growth bringing in more council rating income.
Adcock said the bigger civic centre would have space for 120 more staff. More than two thirds of these extra people will be Northland Transportation Alliance staff.
Rob Forlong, Whangārei District chief executive, said population growth ahead of predictions, the Whangārei implications for recently-announced $1 billion government infrastructure spending into Northland and potential other major projects coming to the region contributed to the upsizing being put before council next week.
"This [upsizing the civic centre] is a pertinent way of making sure we are preparing for the growth which is coming to the district and making sure we can house all the council functions in one place," Forlong said.
"It's a matter of pain now for future gain. Whatever we do, there will be costs."
Forlong said the new centre - to be built in Rust Ave on the old RSA site - would combine two separate WDC office facilities housing staff at Forum North and Walton Plaza. It would accommodate 470 staff, up almost 35 per cent from 350 in the smaller building.
Morris Somner, of the Waipū Ratepayers and Residents Association, said upsizing the building was good, in principle, given the district's huge growth.
He was not in favour of public consultation on the extra $10m spend, saying it would potentially add further costs to the civic centre's creation.
Somner said WDC needed to be careful it was not rating newcomers out of being able to afford to come to Northland. The impact of ongoing rates rises had to be considered for pensioners and retirees in particular.