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Racing club's secret loan draws flak

DENISE PIPER
Last updated 05:00 22/01/2013

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Whangarei Leader

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A secret $300,000 ratepayer grant and loan to the Whangarei Racing Club has drawn flack from a ratepayer advocate.

The Whangarei District Council held two confidential meetings in September to agree to the $200,000 grant and $100,000 loan toward a redevelopment of the Ruakaka track.

The meetings were held in confidence because the club was bidding for a grant from New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing and there were sensitivities about which venues would form the board's strategic top 10.

The total cost of the work is estimated at $914,000 and up to $500,000 will be funded by NZ Thoroughbred Racing.

The development involves building an additional track inside the existing track and has a potential economic impact of $2.1 million by allowing extra races and trials.

But Integrity Action Whangarei member Jeremy Busck says the council needs to be open and transparent. He disagrees with the grant, saying horse racing is the sport of kings and the industry is awash with multimillionaires.

"Why are the poor downtrodden ratepayers funding an organisation that fattens the pockets of these millionaires?" he asks.

Mr Busck says the racing club is a gambling institution that should not be getting a handout.

But club president Dean Logan says it is a non-profit incorporated society and the racing industry contributes greatly to the New Zealand economy.

The Ruakaka racetrack is a community asset, he says.

It is used for a number of other events like the Beach n Boat fishing competition, police and fire training, and motor caravan rally held on weekends.

Deputy mayor Phil Halse says the grant and loan to the club makes good economic sense and the expansion will help the district's economy with more races and trainers based in Whangarei.

"It's the only racecourse of that standard in our province and we need to enable it to grow."

Mr Halse says there were good reasons for the item being confidential and timing meant it could not be included in the district council's long term or annual plans.

Similar grants would previously have been given out through a recreational reserves fund, he says.

Council chief executive officer Mark Simpson says the funding application met the criteria for confidentiality stipulated in the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act in September.

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