Three Waters costs seen as big challenge

Photo: File
Photo: ODT files
Government plans for replacing unpopular Three Waters legislation have had a mixed reception from Otago and Southland mayors, but they agree large looming costs remain an immense challenge.

"Streamlined requirements" for establishing council-controlled organisations and "a new range of structural and financing tools" are among moves on the horizon.

Abandonment of the previous government’s plan to strip councils of water activities was welcomed in some quarters, but several mayors in the South doubted new arrangements would get to the heart of what needed to be done.

Southland District Mayor Rob Scott said too much money had been spent so far on water reforms for too little reward.

Rob Scott
Rob Scott
"We don’t need new bureaucratic structures set up," Mr Scott said.

"The money needs to get to the assets as efficiently as possible without having to jump through too many layers and hoops to get there."

Affordability of maintaining and upgrading drinking water, wastewater and stormwater networks amid stricter national standards remained difficult, he said.

"Debt still needs to be repaid plus interest, no matter whose balance sheet it sits on," Mr Scott said.

"Local government can already borrow at good rates — it’s the repayment that’s the problem."

Central Otago District Mayor Tim Cadogan said the political direction was roughly the same as three years ago.

"As a nation, we have a massive financial cost in front of us right now to get our Three Waters sorted," Mr Cadogan said.

"Finding the most efficient way to meet that cost is what this is all about."

Asked if there was a prospect of councils in Otago or Southland forming combined entities, Mr Cadogan said, "not all of us, not efficiently and not voluntarily".

Tim Cadogan
Tim Cadogan
Gore District Mayor Ben Bell said Otago and Southland mayors had asked their council chief executives to investigate a combined solution.

He was pleased to see confirmation that repeal of previous government legislation would go ahead.

"There is no simple solution to what lies ahead but we have a responsibility to do what we can with the hand we have been dealt," Mr Bell said.

Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich said some efficiencies might be achieved through councils co-operating.

"I think that we could begin by getting around a table and discussing standardisation and procurement," he said.

"This activity could then lead on to deeper discussions about greater combined resources."

The government had talked of formation of larger entities, "so it might be pragmatic to get started on how to make one work".

Waitaki District Mayor Gary Kircher said he agreed with the government that high standards needed to be maintained to protect people and the environment.

"However, there’s no obligation or new incentive for any council to work with others to deliver its water services," Mr Kircher said.

Ben Bell
Ben Bell
"I see nothing in the announcement that takes a single dollar off the expected huge investment that many councils must make over the next 30 years."

Clutha District Mayor Bryan Cadogan said ratepayers were bearing the brunt of reforms and reversals.

It was hard to see how the direction-setting from Wellington could have played out with a worse result for councils, he said.

Mr Cadogan was open to working with neighbouring councils.

"It is only through searching for efficiency that we are going to mitigate against the worst of the rate increases," he said.

Invercargill Mayor Nobby Clark was broadly supportive of where the government landed.

He would oppose any scheme where Invercargill might be asked to make sacrifices for "the greater regional good".

There would need to be a discussion in the city about the possibility of bringing in water meters, he said.