Community group rental policy shelved

Hamilton City Council has been forced to temporarily shelf a controversial new policy that could have hit some community groups with rent increases of up to $11,000.

Mayor Julie Hardaker conceded that the council's community occupancy policy could not be implemented after a majority of councillors voted against guidelines setting out how it would be enforced.

The community occupancy policy, which was adopted by the council in November, has caused considerable angst among the city's community, volunteer and trust groups with 87 groups facing rent increases ranging from $42 a year to more than $11,000.

The policy calculated rent at 12.5 per cent of the market rate per square metre.

Speaking to councillors this week, Hamilton Roller Skating Club vice president Russelle Knaap said she could understand the council's desire to standardise its lease arrangements, but the new policy was neither practical nor fair.

The club's building at Melville Park sat on public land classified under the Reserve Act as recreational and should not be valued against commercial market rates in the private sector, Ms Knaap said. The club currently pays a $1 pepper-corn rent but faces an increase of $660 a year.

Colin Bailey, vice president of Riding for the Disabled, said his club faced a rent increase of almost $4000 which would invariably have an impact on their "vulnerable users".

Deputy Mayor Gordon Chesterman, one of five councillors to support the proposed policy guidelines, said those groups unduly affected by rate increases could apply to the council for further subsidies.

Mr Chesterman said there were community groups that could be regarded as "special cases" and it was up to council staff to be proactive and make those groups aware of the subsidy options available.

But Councillor Dave Macpherson said the policy and supporting guidelines had the potential to tie council staff in "administrative knots". "Every one of these groups does the city a service."

Councillor Ewan Wilson said the policy ". . . creates the farcical situation wherein the St Andrews Golf Club will have a reduction in rent and Riding for the Disabled will have an increase. Where's the equality in that? "

Ms Hardaker instructed staff to revisit the policy guidelines in light of councillors' feedback.

Waikato Times