Veronica Harrod says Horowhenua District Council spent almost $1.3 million on economic development activity between June 2016 and March 2018.
Big spending on economic activities
Council’s Annual Report states $804,000 was spent on economic development in 2016-2017 and $491,000 has been spent so far this financial year. Council’s nine month report states $717,000 was the forecasted budget to the end of March.
Council’s economic development activities are based on a 2015 report by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) that targets “relatively” cheap land and low/stagnant wages as two of the main economic advantages of doing business in Horowhenua if an expressway was built past Levin. The report was commissioned by the Council and Economic Development Board.
Chief financial officer Doug Law said in a six month report to the Finance, Audit and Risk committee in February that 90 percent of the economic development work plan for this year would be completed by December 2017 but only 30 percent was.
Mr Law said he would report on, “our achievement/non-achievement at June 2018” in his eleven month financial report but he didn’t. Mr Law has not responded to requests for comment on the omission.
He also said, “Capital expenditure within the Property activity is tracking higher than budgeted…primarily due to unbudgeted expenditure, including the Durham Street site clearance, and an unplanned property purchase.”
Private enterprise benefiting in a big way
The Durham Street site clearance refers to the demolition of the 100 year old former Jack Allen House in Levin’s Central Business District, one of five land lots between 15-23 Durham Street sold for $980,000 by Council to BOHR Property Ltd on November 14, 2017 for a new medical centre.
BOHR Property Ltd is listed as a property rental company and all but four of the shares are owned by company director Johannes Roberti, an environmental scientist turned business development manager and husband of (GP) Dr Bente Christine Ongkiehong, who co-owns the Cambridge Street Medical Centre in Levin. She is also a director of BOHR Property Ltd.
Dr Ongkiehong and Mr Roberti have not responded to requests for an interview to explain why the company is listed as a property rental company rather than with a “community health centre operation” or “Clinic – medical – general practice” industry classification.
Information has also been sought from Council about the “unplanned property purchase” as a report by economic development manager Shanon Grainger said council should support the establishment of the Horowhenua New Zealand Trust, “because Councils are not expert professional commercial property developers or managers.”
Council also intends transferring up to 40 percent of public assets to the Trust which would be sold on the open market for seed funding. Chief executive David Clapperton says the first group of properties to be transferred in the next few months will be worth about $7 million.