Councillors fume over $100m bill

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 03/07/2012
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Christchurch City councillors say they have been kept in the dark over a deal with the Government that could see ratepayers shouldering a $100million-plus bill for Port Hills land judged too unsafe to live on.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said last Friday that 258 Port Hills homes were being zoned red and indicated in a press statement that the city council had agreed to meet half the $205m cost of buying the properties.

The cost-share agreement has come as news to most councillors, who say they were never informed about the financial implications of the zoning decision.

"It's incredibly frustrating that we've been kept in the dark," Cr Yani Johanson said.

"I'm sick of being told what is happening rather than being involved in any substantive decision-making."

Johanson has asked council chief executive Tony Marryatt for more information but was still waiting for details.

He said the last thing he wanted was to delay the process for residents who had already endured a 15-month wait for a decision on the fate of their properties, but councillors should have been briefed on the financial implications of the Government's buyout offer.

Mayor Bob Parker said no deal had been reached and Brownlee "misspoke".

He said the council had a statutory responsibility to meet some of the costs of the compensation package, but no firm agreement had been reached on how the split would fall.

Preliminary discussions had focused on a 60-40 split, which would equate to a bill of between $70m and $80m for the council, of which it already had about half set aside.

He said councillors had been given an early heads-up that the council would have to meet some of the costs associated with the land buyout, but when they were briefed there were no firm figures available.

Those figures had become available only in the past few days when it became clear exactly how many properties were being red-zoned.

Brownlee said last night that the 50-50 split should not have been made public because no decision had been made.

However, the council was obliged to pay a "substantial amount of money".

"If there's a city councillor 21 months after this event that doesn't understand what the city council's liabilities are likely to be, they are not doing their job," he said.

"The 50-50 was put in there as a holding position because at this stage we still don't know the total number of people that will need to retreat from the Port Hills. It's not fair to say there was an agreement reached."

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Cr Tim Carter said councillors should have been kept informed.

"Our finances are very tight and we can't just keep handing over money," he said.

Cr Helen Broughton, who heads the council's new corporate and financial committee, said the council would probably have to borrow money to meet its share.

Parker said councillors would be fully consulted on the deal in due course.

Acknowledging that some councillors might feel aggrieved, he said his priority had been to give certainty to Port Hills residents.

Peter Lynch, of Cantabrians Unite, said it seemed this was another example of a dysfunctional council.

"It's crazy. [Crown observer] Kerry Marshall has only just left and already the council is back to its old ways," he said.

- The Press

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