Little enthusiasm in council to rejoin LGNZ

Local Government New Zealand met a tepid response from the West Coast Regional Council when its president asked the council to rejoin the organisation.

"We’d like you to be back and involved," Local Government NZ (LGNZ) president Sam Broughton said at a council meeting this week, as he outlined "huge value" for the council in being an LGNZ member.

The council cancelled its paid membership of LGNZ in May 2023 after previously putting the lobby group on notice in 2022.

Before the council dropped its membership, its then chief executive Heather Mabin said the total LGNZ bill, including GST, was $41,828. That was on top of the individual fees LGNZ charged each of the three district councils in the region.

In May 2023, Ms Mabin said the annual LGNZ subscription equated to more than $1 per head for each person living on the West Coast and about $1.80 per rating unit.

Yesterday, Mr Broughton, who is Selwyn district mayor, accentuated the positives of membership. He spoke about the organisation’s national advocacy work, its parliamentary submission work and its capacity to provide councils with ready-made policies and manuals they could "copy and paste" to suit the region.

"We think there’s real value in being involved with LGNZ because of the advocacy work."

Mr Broughton also touched on devolution, saying LGNZ was now "really pushing localism".

West Coast regional councillor Brett Cummings said LGNZ membership came down to money.

The council had done the right thing for a region with four councils serving just over 30,000 people.

"We were putting in more money [collectively] for LGNZ than for any other region. It doesn’t seem quite right."

Mr Broughton said the LGNZ fee was for services to the council and not the people of a region.

"Every council of the same size pays about the same amount of money," he said.

Cr Peter Ewen said the total cost was at the heart of the council’s decision in May last year.

"We’ve got to have some fiscal caution."

However, LGNZ’s lack of advocacy on behalf of the council over the region’s combined Te Tai o Poutini Plan (TTPP) was "the biggest reason" it had been dropped, he said.

LGNZ undertook in 2022 to lobby central government over the regional council being ordered to shoulder the TTPP cost on behalf of the three district councils, after the government in 2019 imposed the "one district plan" on the region’s tiny rating base.

At the time, the "one plan" was posited as the "blueprint" for fewer district plans under the RMA reforms.

Cr Ewen said that lack of advocacy hurt.

At the same time, the LGNZ fee cost across the four Coast councils had been significantly higher than what large centres paid.

"We were left by ourselves by LGNZ. We have cost pressures elsewhere. I take issue we are paying the same as everyone else."

He cited the resourcing of health services in the region over the past 25 years as an example of what the Coast’s councils also faced.

Those resource realities were now hitting home on a much bigger scale elsewhere, he said.

"Now everyone knows what we were talking about ... we’ve got plenty to spend on other things — one is the one district plan."

Chairman Peter Haddock noted the regional council already paid membership to Te Uru Kahika, the Regional and Unitary Councils Aotearoa representative group.

"We’ve got a lot of benefit out of that. Really, for our council, it is the cost," he said.

The council was about to debate its draft 2024-34 long-term plan after Mr Broughton spoke.

It proposes a 27% general rates increase cushioned by taking on more debt in 2024-25 to fund its budget.

The second non-preferred option is a 44% rates increase next year, which would be used to fund council’s proposed 20.8% rates take increase in 2024-25.

Mr Broughton, who leads the second-fastest-growing district in New Zealand, congratulated the council for being brave in looking at a substantial rates increase, like many councils were under their long-term plans.

"Well done in having brave conversations," he said.

 - By Brendon McMahon