'Bemused' councils query reform

The Government will face a united front from New Zealand councils "bemused" by planned changes to the local government sector, Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says.

His comments came as mayors and council chief executives from around the South Island gathered in Dunedin for yesterday's Local Government New Zealand zone five and six meeting.

Mr Cull said much debate at the meeting centred on local government reforms unveiled earlier this year and now being progressed by new Local Government Minister David Carter.

The Government's push for greater efficiency meant councils were looking at more ways to share services and cut costs, Mr Cull said.

"That's a challenge. We need to respond to that."

However, there was also "a bit of bemusement" over apparent mixed messages coming from central government over the changes, Mr Cull said.

He pointed to comments by former minister Nick Smith about escalating council debt levels, and Finance Minister Bill English's recent description of council debt levels as "relatively low", albeit rising.

"You're thinking: What is it they actually believe?

"They talk about 'We need to fix this' and we're saying: 'So what exactly is the problem?'

"There's a bit of bemusement ... that bemusement will inform our submissions," he said.

The Dunedin City Council was considering making its own submission on the proposed changes, as were other councils, Mr Cull said.

However, the Government would also receive a joint submission from Local Government New Zealand and the Society of Local Government Managers.


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