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The money — $7.92 million plus a slice of $20.6 million for Otago — was said to be the first of three expected tranches of funding, as new regulations for drinking water, and new models of three water infrastructure ownership loomed on the horizon.
Dunedin City Council infrastructure chairman Cr Jim O’Malley said this week while signing a memorandum of understanding and funding agreement was non-binding at this stage, he questioned whether the expected change was indeed a voluntary one by the council.
"What’s the difference between signing a binding agreement now and signing a series of non-binding agreements until we get to a point where we simply cannot turn back and our last step is to opt out of a system that is now so locked-in that opting out means exposing yourself to extreme commercial outcomes," Cr O’Malley said.
"Today, we have no option but to sign this.
Dunedin City Council Three Waters group manager Tom Dyer told councillors any applications the council had made for the so-called shovel-ready Three Waters projects had been declined.
The money on offer was in lieu of that funding.
Cr Mike Lord said he believed "within two to three years" the ownership model would change.
"We’ll see possibly about $1 billion will be taken off our assets balance and given to an entity ... and people will be paying a water rate that will be significantly greater," Cr Lord said.
"I don’t think this is a good thing long term."
Cr Jules Radich questioned whether the funding formula was fair — or whether the council could lobby to increase its allocation from the Government.
Cr Rachel Elder asked whether a "Highlanders" model for a regional approach to Three Waters in the South - as opposed to a whole of South Island approach that might manage Three Waters infrastructure from Christchurch - was preferable.
Council acting chief executive Sandy Graham told Cr Christine Garey she was unaware of any councils that had considered the issue and decided against signing up.
Ms Graham also said the Otago and Southland mayoral forums were planning to meet in a joint fashion to discuss the southern type of arrangement Cr Elder had suggested.
"Those conversations are still in the early stages," Ms Graham said.
"And the executives met yesterday as I said — and it will be a discussion for the mayoral forum about the best way to navigate this first stage and that regional agreement."
Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins said guidance from the Department of Internal Affairs was changing daily, if not "hourly", and was one of many councillors who thanked staff for their efforts to "navigate a fast-evolving process".
"I think the Government have been pretty clear and direct about the fact that they do not see direct council ownership of Three Waters, or at least two of those Three Waters as being a desirable outcome. The questions are around, if not that, then what?" Mr Hawkins asked.
The vote to sign up and accept the first funding round passed unanimously.
Crs Lee Vandervis and Marie Laufiso sent apologies.