Councils considering whether to ditch LGNZ membership

At least three West Coast councils say they are debating whether to continue their membership of Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ).

The matter arose at the West Coast Regional Council meeting this week after the chairman received the latest annual membership bill for $39,460.

A brief report by council chief executive Heather Mabin said that amounted to more than $1 per head for each person living on the Coast.

While there was some "risk" in not being an LGNZ member, the council’s staff and elected members could still attend LGNZ events if it decided not to retain its membership, Ms Mabin said.

Council chairman Allan Birchfield had indicated to LGNZ his council would be canvassed on the membership issue.

Three Waters reform had highlighted to him that the Wellington-based group was "too much in bed with the Government" pushing the Government agenda and "they are no longer advocating for us".

LGNZ had made a last-minute appeal before the meeting to be able to directly address the council about the benefits of membership.

"They sent the invoice to me and I said ... we’ll vote on it," he said.

"I delayed the vote until they have had a chance to talk to council. I think the council will vote to continue but I’m just making a point. It certainly lit a fire under LGNZ because I had two phone calls just before the meeting."

Grey Mayor Tania Gibson said she seriously questioned the value of LGNZ membership and the matter would be tabled at the next council meeting.

LGNZ had been less than proactive for its members over Three Waters and despite entreaties to it the organisation had not shifted its approach, Mrs Gibson said.

In her view, the Grey District Council had had more value from joining in the alternative joint local body lobby against Three Waters reform, which had cost $10,000.

"That small amount has been well spent and got more traction than any money that has been spent by LGNZ."

A full council meeting would debate the issue.

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith said his council was also reconsidering the value of LGNZ membership.

"Councillors want LGNZ to explain the benefits of paying," he said.

It had been raised in March and his council’s bill was $33,000.

Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine said he thought Buller retaining its membership was "a given".

However, the political and regulatory climate for local government was dynamic at present.

The times were "unprecedented" with a lot of planned reform of the sector alongside Three Waters.

Plans pointed to bigger reorganisation of local government than the last big changes in 1989.

Mr Cleine said that to keep a collective voice to lobby the Government, retaining LGNZ membership was even more important in the current climate.

LGNZ membership also had an important benefit as it gave access to a raft of policy and legislative advice for councils, which was vital for a small organisation which did not necessarily have that depth of expertise, he said.

In a brief statement, LGNZ said president Stuart Crosby would meet the West Coast Regional Council before it made a decision.

By Brendon McMahon

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