Council express views on Three Waters Reform
Stratford District Council discussed its concerns on the Central Government Three Waters Reform at a Policy and Services Committee meeting yesterday, which will be fed into a letter of feedback for Central Government this week.
Local authorities have been encouraged to review and consider the Government’s Three Waters Reform Package and have been asked to provide feedback to Central Government before 1 October 2021.
District Mayor Neil Volzke noted the importance of putting Stratford’s views across. “Our community has an expectation of us to put forward what’s best for our community. We need to tell the Government what we think.”
“This period for feedback on the reform proposal does not require SDC to make any decisions on whether to remain in the reform or opt-out. Our expectation is that the Government will consult and engage with SDC and the Stratford community before any significant decisions are made,” he says.
In the meeting elected members spoke out about their main concerns with the reform as it currently stands. There was agreement at the growing list of key issues which included but was not limited to:
- Loss of local voice for the management of community owned assets
- Issues around prioritising spend - how will local priorities be met and delivered by a large entity?
- Accountability - how will the new entities be responsive and accountable to our communities?
- Governance model - a complex framework that seems clumsy and unnecessarily complicated
- Financial model – it’s overestimating the benefits achieved by a reform without accounting accurately for the associated risks.
Elected members also raised concerns about the assumptions used by the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), which came to the conclusion that ratepayers will be paying less with the reform.
“We need more time and understanding on how they came to that result, because we are far from convinced that our community will be better off financially with the reform as it’s currently proposed,” says Mayor Volzke.
The biggest irk from elected members was the lack of opportunity for community consultation.
“We feel, and our local community has let us know, that the Government’s complete lack of community engagement to date on the proposed fundamental changes to community owned assets is unacceptable,” says Mayor Volzke. “This is a Government reform and councils have been set up as the fall guy.”
There was also a discussion on the number of misconceptions in the community about the reform.
Mayor Volzke says, “The amount of misinformation, conspiracy theories, incorrect facts and personal views people are exposed to isn’t helpful. The government continues to soften up the public with childish television advertisements, but they should be delivering meaningful engagement to ensure communities are properly informed.”
“While we acknowledge that water services nationally need improvements, the impact of a ‘one-size fits all’ and centralised approach on our community is worrying,” says Mayor Volzke.
Once the Government has reviewed Council’s feedback, SDC expects them to outline the process for thorough community consultation and decision making.
Central Government is proposing to establish four large publicly owned water service delivery entities. These entities would own and manage the drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure for local communities, instead of councils.
For Stratford, this would mean that our three waters assets (as well as the debt attached to these assets) would be taken over by a new entity (Entity B) that would include 22 councils across the Waikato (including Hamilton), Bay of Plenty (including Tauranga and Whakatāne) and Taranaki Regions and the Ruapehu, Whanganui and Rangatīkei Districts.
For more information about the Government’s Three Waters Reform Proposal, you can go to the Department of Internal Affairs website dia.govt.nz/Three-Waters-Reform-Programme or stratford.govt.nz/our-services/water/three-waters-reform