Choices aplenty in Central Otago

After a famine last election, Central Otago voters have a feast this time around.

The only choice for many voters in 2010 was who they wanted as mayor, as no election was needed for the Central Otago District Council or for seats on two of the four community boards.

This election, there is a challenge for the mayoralty, a contest for seats in four out of five council wards, with double the number of candidates required in most instances, and contests in half the district's community boards.

Alexandra businesswoman Lynley Claridge is challenging incumbent mayor Tony Lepper for the top job.

Mrs Claridge has some form, having served almost three terms as a district councillor, and offers a contrasting leadership style to the incumbent mayor's.

Mr Lepper appears to have a strong band of supporters, including deputy mayor and chairman of the Cromwell Community Board Neil Gillespie and chairman of the Roxburgh Community Board Stephen Jeffery, who nominated him for the role.

Mr Lepper gained more than 38% of the vote at the last election, unseating Malcolm Macpherson, who had served three terms in office.

The issues for candidates and voters this election vary depending on whether they are rural or urban-based, although one constant is that ratepayers throughout the district complain about rates rises each year.

Encouraging and managing growth is another issue which affects the whole district.

The necessary upgrading of council-run drinking water schemes has remained a hot issue for several council terms.

Water metering has been phased in throughout most of those council-run schemes with the aim of encouraging water conservation.

The thorny issue of how costs for upgraded drinking water supplies and wastewater schemes are apportioned will be tackled by the new council.

The council has taken the power for decision-making on water and wastewater away from the community boards, much to the disgust of the Cromwell board and Cromwell ward councillors, and handed it over to a council committee.

Several long-serving councillors have stepped down this election and candidates this time are a mix of sitting councillors and new faces.

In the Cromwell ward, sitting councillors Gillespie and Terry Emmitt face challenges from Shirley Calvert, Helen Hucklebridge and Nigel McKinlay.

Ms Calvert is the former chairwoman of the Cromwell and District Community Trust, while Mrs Hucklebridge and Mr McKinlay are both on the Cromwell Community Board.

A battle is looming in the Maniototo ward, now long-serving Cr Barry Becker is retiring.

Former Maniototo Community Board member and Wedderburn farmer Stu Duncan is vying with Errol Millar for the sole Maniototo ward seat.

Mr Millar, of Patearoa, was the inaugural chairman of the Southern District Health Board and has worked as a management consultant mostly in health, transport, local government and emergency service sectors.

An unusual feature of the contest for council seats is that Roxburgh ward councillor John Lane is standing for the Alexandra ward this election.

Mr Lane believes the function of a councillor is to represent the district as a whole.

His opponents for the three seats in the ward include sitting councillors Steve Battrick and Martin McPherson, semi-retired school principal Barry Hambleton, Graeme Henderson, who lives in East Taieri but has a house in Alexandra, and Vincent Community Board member Barrie Wills.

Vincent board chairwoman Clair Higginson is standing again for one of two Earnscleugh-Manuherikia ward seats.

Her challengers are Alexandra businessman Stu Millis, Malcolm Topliss, of Ophir, and Roger Browne, of Earnscleugh.

For the first time in Central Otago, five candidates are standing under a banner - The Progressive Group.

The group was formed because of concern at what they say is a lack of ''sensible progress'' in the Alexandra, Clyde and Omakau area.

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