Port Hills buyout cost on table - secretly
Christchurch City councillors will today hold a hastily arranged secret meeting where they are expected to discuss the financial fallout from the Government's Port Hills zoning decisions.
Mystery surrounds the meeting, with the public and the media barred and many councillors in the dark over what is on the agenda.
The Press understands the meeting aims to get councillors to approve a multimillion-dollar cost-share agreement with the Government before Friday's final residential land-zoning decision.
The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) said in June that 285 Port Hills properties were being zoned red because of the risk of cliff collapse or rockfall. It is buying those properties at an estimated cost of $205m, but the council has to find some of that money, possibly as much as half.
The council always knew it would be liable for some of the costs of any buyout because of its statutory responsibilities to manage natural hazards, but it has budgeted on contributing only about $40m.
If it has to pay half the costs, as Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee initially indicated, it will need to find an extra $65m from its already stretched budgets.
That figure could go up even further, depending on how many of the remaining 166 white-zoned properties on the Port Hills are red-zoned and how many green-zoned.
Negotiations between the council and the Government have been taking place in recent weeks and a decision on how the costs will be split between local and central government has been promised by Friday, when Brownlee is due to announce the fate of the last of the white-zoned properties.
The council yesterday declined to comment on its negotiations with the Government, and it would not go into detail on what would be discussed at today's meeting, but it has previously indicated that it would make a decision on how much it would contribute to the buyout offer by Friday.
A spokeswoman said the council would make no comment on the outcome of the meeting before the Government's zoning announcement on Friday.
Cr Glenn Livingstone yesterday questioned why there was so much secrecy surrounding the meeting, given that much of the information likely to go before the council was already in the public domain.
"I would support the meeting being open," he said. "I don't understand the need for secrecy.
"The issues have been canvassed before and what's decided is going to have a direct impact on all ratepayers and taxpayers."
Cr Yani Johanson said he had not seen an agenda for the meeting, despite requesting one, but on the surface he could see no reason why it should not be conducted in public.
"If it's public money we should discuss it in public," said Johanson, who also voiced concern at the tight time frame councillors were being given to make a "very expensive and costly decision".
- © Fairfax NZ News
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