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Mixed views on centre upgrade

By Hayley Gastmeier

[email protected]

Some South Wairarapa district councillors may be ready to sign off an updated budget of Martinborough’s Waihinga Centre, while others are yet to make up their mind.

Yesterday new details were released on the project, stating the total cost would be $5.2million, about $90,000 more than they had previously budgeted for.

New cost estimates for earthquake strengthening are tabled at $1,072,000, which is $172,000 more than initially estimated.

A special meeting will be held tomorrow to discuss approving the addition of $172,000 to the strengthening aspect of the project – which will be covered by a loan funded through ratepayers.

A lower interest rate would be applied to the higher loan, resulting in payments being the same as previously signalled, a report prepared for tomorrow’s meeting states.

Over a 25-year term, annual repayments of $72,000 would be made at an interest rate of 4.5 per cent instead of the original 6.25 per cent.

The financial impact on urban ratepayers would be $15.98 per annum, and $8.30 per annum for rural ratepayers, if the recommendations are accepted.

The report also identifies a number of areas for cost saving, including sponsorship, discounting of material and services, and reducing project management fees.

“Now that final pricing is available, it is apparent a slight increase is required in relation to the earthquake strengthening aspect, which has a consequential impact on the overall project price.

“There are opportunities to reduce costs further by approaching suppliers for gifts or discounts, and the $5.2million includes project management fees of $130,000 that is under review.”

The report also notes that currently there would be a $68,000 contingency, thought to be too low.

“Our advice is that a contingency should be set at $200,000 to $250,000 given the nature of this project.”

If approved tomorrow, the project could start “immediately”.

Project history

The Waihinga Centre is planned to be created from the strengthening, refurbishment and extension of the historic Martinborough Town Hall, built in 1912 of unreinforced masonry.

It will include the Martinborough Library, Plunket rooms, a toy library, the Destination Wairarapa iSITE and a cafe.

In August 2015, the project was forecast to cost $6.4million.

SWDC then asked Martinborough ratepayers whether they would accept a rates increase in order to cover the estimated final $1.3million needed.

From submissions received by the council, 544 were against a targeted rate to part-fund the town centre and 435 were in support, resulting in the council unanimously agreeing to shelve the ‘target rate option’.

The Waihinga Centre name was chosen in a public competition, judged by the Martinborough Town Hall steering group committee, and following consultation with historians and iwi.

AT the time, project spokesman Max Stevens said that, when Martinborough was planned and surveyed in 1879 by John Martin, it replaced a small European settlement which had the name Wharekaka, and a nearby Maori village named Waihinga.

What the councillors say

Colin Wright yesterday said until questions had been asked and answered at tomorrow’s meeting, he was keeping “an open mind” about the jump in price.

“The fact that it’s a fairly big project and it’s not unusual to have some increase in costs.”

The reasons given for the rise seemed valid, Mr Wright said.

However, he was still trying to get his head around the council’s “complicated way of funding the project”.

Pam Colenso said although the price tag had grown, it would likely be offset by savings made over the course of the project.

“That means the project should come out on budget, and I look forward to it getting signed off and the work starting.

Mrs Colenso said she was excited about the Waihinga Centre, saying “it’s going to be fantastic and a huge asset to the town.”

Colin Olds was unsure which way he would be voting, saying his decision would be made based on what came out of the meeting.

“There are concerns, there’s no doubt about it, and cost accuracy is important.

“But the environment has changed too, we’ve had a couple of good shake ups,” Mr Olds said.

He anticipates “some very interesting debate” will take place tomorrow in the council chambers.

“I’m going to reserve my decision until I have heard what the community has to say, and until I gain further knowledge in terms of information that we’ve requested.”

South Wairarapa deputy mayor Brian Jephson said the budget hike was not unexpected, saying the initial strengthening estimate to council was issued in 2013.

“We’ve had a lot of seismic activity since then.”

Mr Jephson said he was “comfortable” with the increase, “without being absolutely delighted”.

He said the “flip side” to the increased cost of strengthening the old town hall was that the interest of the loan would be at 2.5 per cent cheaper, which offset the cost to ratepayers.

“There’s a win on one end and a loss on the other. That’s the way it’s going to go.

“It’s not costing the ratepayer anymore and I’m happy with that, that’s a good outcome as far as I’m concerned.”

Dayle Harwood’s main concern with the project is the contingency budget of $68,000.

He said that figure was too low for such a significant project.

As a Featherston ratepayer, Mr Harwood says he doesn’t mind funding the upgrade of the existing town hall.

South Wairarapa Mayor Viv Napier said she was very much in support of the project and having the final costings now was a positive for the council, who up until now had been working on estimates.

She said the Waihinga Centre had been such a long time in the pipeline, she hoped tomorrow would mark a step forward.

“It will be really good to get the project going… and things can start pretty much straight away, action can happen.”

At tomorrow’s meeting, the majority of councillors will have to approve the cost increase for the project to continue going ahead.

Mrs Napier said the public participation should spark some lively discussion.

Councillors Paora Ammunson, Margaret Craig, Lee Carter and Pip Maynard could not be reached for comment.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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