Concern for local voice in water reform

A councillor believes Southland will not have any representation or any voice if his council joins the Government’s proposed Three Waters reform.

Cr Don Byars raised his concerns during a Southland District Council meeting yesterday where a presentation about the proposal was discussed.

The Government has asked councils across the country to provide feedback on its proposal by the end of the month.

At the start of the meeting, Mayor Gary Tong said it was not a time to make any decision.

However, he said the status quo was not an option.

Cr Byars believed the council should include in its feedback that it would like to retain ownership of its infrastructure.

He believed that as Southland had a small population, it would lack a voice in the proposed model as the new entity would be made up of about 12 board members, half being Maori representation and half from councils.

‘‘We don’t have a big population so I think it is a given, really, that we are not going to have any representation or any voice at this new entity level.

‘‘We would be naive to think that we would,’’ he said.

He urged the council to advise the Government it wanted to maintain ownership of its assets and start a discussion about how the council could do that.

Cr Byars believed the council should do things differently, including motivating residents to reuse roof water and manage human waste in a different way.

Mr Tong said the council already did that, but said he could not agree with Cr Byars’ comments Southland would not have effective representation.

He said the region would advocate to maintain its local voice or at least would have its voice heard through the Southland Mayoral Forum.

Other questions were raised about the financial implications of reform for ratepayers and how they would be charged.

Despite council officers not having answers to those questions, services and assets group manager Matt Russell said one of the goals of the proposal was to reduce the costs for ratepayers.

Whether this would happen was still to be seen, he said.

Cr Rob Scott said it was hard to support something that was ‘‘still so unknown’’.

Cr Christine Menzies said local government bodies were also under review and this could affect decisions about water.

The two reforms should not be considered separate, she said.

At the end of the debate, Mr Russell summarised the points covered.

These included that the council agreed with the boundaries proposed in the reform, but wanted to ensure the local voice was integrated to any entity or environment moving forward.

There was a feeling the proposed structure did not provide adequate input for the local voice.

‘‘We would like to see some alternative mechanism and perhaps we can utilise our Te Anau wastewater project committee format as an example of how that might be achieved moving forward,’’ he said.

The importance of retaining public ownership, the concern about decision-making based on population size and the need for rural representation on the new entity would also be in the council’s feedback, Mr Russell said.

The discussion was adjourned for another meeting — still to be scheduled — at which councillors would confirm the points discussed before sending final feedback to the Government.

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