ORC building 'misuse' of capital

The Otago regional council building, on Stafford St. Photo by ODT.
The Otago regional council building, on Stafford St. Photo by ODT.
The Otago Regional Council in effect dismissed calls from the Prime Minister when it agreed to spend nearly $1 million on a new temporary building, writes Gerrard Eckhoff.

The decision by the Otago Regional Council last week to allow up to $1 million for a temporary $4000-a-square-metre building is receiving appropriate publicity. The decision was, however, democratically made, with one dissenting vote. There was another reason behind the one "no" vote, besides that of some inconvenience for 11 councillors and a few staff at the monthly meetings.

At the recent local government conference, the Prime Minister's address focused on the need for central and local government to accept a whole new paradigm exists thanks to the global financial crisis - which is far from over. The public service must react to the Government's edict, but councils have seemingly dismissed the PM's call, and have adopted a "business as usual" approach.

Councils are morally obligated to accept the direction the Government requires and react accordingly. The need for effectiveness and efficiency by both central and local government is plain for all to see, and this is not just confined to staff deployment. The singular most pressing need is the effective and efficient use of capital.

Even a Green Party MP seems to grasp this point, with his brick-and-mortar comment while in Dunedin just recently.

The spending of $1 million on a temporary building which will have little or no resale value and will add virtually nothing to the retail/market value of the site would never occur in the private sector, as was also pointed out in Saturday's ODT editorial. The misuse of capital in local government cannot continue if the country is to drag itself out of the ever-increasing circle of tax and spend.

Conversely, the regional council is in the middle of discussion over the request for considerable sums of (short-term) ratepayer money to assist in turning "dust bowls into fruit bowls".

The difference in potential returns to the province from the two projects could not be more stark. One project - subject to appropriate consultation and safeguards - will deliver ongoing opportunity for generations to come. The other has an opportunity cost, as well as the loss of $1 million on a 250sq m building. That is the real "no brainer".

Gerrard Eckhoff, of Alexandra, is the regional councillor who voted against the spending on the new building.


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