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Taxpayers’ bill for vacant house

A derelict Crown-owned house in Masterton has remained empty for almost two decades, during which time taxpayers have paid $73,000 for the property’s council rates.

Built in the 1970s, the large house at 8 Greenlane Rd sits on a 1.4ha section and has been vacant for 18 years.

It was a youth centre for three years before being used to care for children from troubled homes.

It was in the control of Child, Youth and Family when it first became vacant in 2006. In February 2022, the Ministry of Social Development [MSD] transferred it to Oranga Tamariki [OT] Ministry for Children.

Twelve years ago, Masterton foster parent Peter Teahan – who has since died – accused the MSD of wasting money on the unused house that could have been spent on needy children instead.

He said the “beautiful home” either needed to be fixed or sold.

“If you’re not going to use it, why keep the thing? Why keep property that’s worth half a million? Why not put it into resources for children?”

It is being “being considered for disposal”, the OT response to a recent Official Information Act [OIA] request said.

In August 2016, when the Times-Age ran a story about the property, MSD stated it was “subject to disposal”.

In the initial article, it was estimated that $50,000 in rates and maintenance had been spent on the property while MSD was in charge.

A recent Masterton District Council [MDC] property search states that the property has been charged a further $23,135.50 in rates since then.

“From the date the property was transferred to us to the present,” OT’s OIA response said, “a total of $7,156 (excluding GST) has been spent on rates and $837 (excluding GST) has been spent on upkeep expenses”.

The ministry said there are no plans to renovate the empty property, as it is being determined whether it is “surplus” to “operational requirements”.

“Once it has been approved as surplus to the requirements of Oranga Tamariki, Land Information New Zealand will undertake the Crown Asset Disposal Process as per the Public Works Act.”

An OIA request to MSD eight years ago revealed that, in 2014, the property had a valuation for finance/asset purposes of $371,000 and a government valuation of $580,000.

OT said it was unable to provide its most recent valuation for the property due to commercial sensitivity as part of any negotiations occurring under the Crown Asset Disposal Process, although MDC records indicate it had a capital valuation of $945,000 in 2023.

This story has been updated. Oranga Tamariki initially said in an OIA that “the total rates expense has been $3,076.00” and “there are no other recorded expenses for this property” but then clarified on May 24 through a second OIA that “some information was missing from our previous response of 29 April 2024” and provided updated information that “a total of $7,156 (excluding GST) has been spent on rates and $837 (excluding GST) has been spent on upkeep expenses”.

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