Should the city council be a property developer?
Porirua City Council owns a lot of property that isn’t doing much. Ratepayers’ money has been used to make many purchases in different parts of Porirua over the past decade.
Mayor Nick Leggett and councillors Euon Murrell and John Burke (a councillor again since 2013) have been real estate agents.
Perhaps they still enjoy the thrill of a property deal.
The purchase of 34 and 36 Steyne Ave in 2011 for more than $1 million attracted criticism because of the cost to ratepayers.
When the New Zealand Post building was bought in 2015, there was more adverse comment – why was the council buying a building that was obviously broken?
The reasoning that the New Zealand Post building was part of a grand plan to attract residential living in the CBD has not washed with some residents.
Responses to our questions from Murrell and council chief executive Wendy Walker involve phrases like ‘‘future-proofing’’, but the fact is this is a council that relies on rates for income.
Buying parcels of land for road reserves, verges and pump stations is understandable. But when you have million dollar properties and land sitting vacant and under-developed, how does that help residents facing yet another steep rates rise?
The main argument is that if the Challenge petrol station land, Post Office building or the Steyne Ave properties were snapped up by developers, they would be lost to the community forever.
Beach access, car parking, reserves and other amenities we expect in a city would be gone.
But surely Porirua residents can expect that if their money is used to buy property, there is some activity there.
It may cost money to develop these sites, but isn’t it better to spend the money now, or work harder as a landlord to get someone to tenant it, than for it to sit there, wasting everyone’s time and a rates income?
Council critic Andrew Wellum, and others, might be accused of haranguing the council over rates and other financial matters. But when it comes to property, Wellum has a point – the council should generally leave that to the private sector.
Walker said the Challenge and Post Office properties would soon be developed. Great if it’s true – and not before time.
But as rates keep rising – a 5 per cent increase is projected in the next financial year – could some properties be sold to boost council coffers and keep rates down?