Councils concerned over the future of public assets

Opinion: No confidence we will retain rights

Jim Mylchreest Waipa¯ mayor





My apologies for once again focusing this article on the Three Waters reform but it is still the issue that I receive the vast majority of enquiries about and support for the stance the council has taken in opposing the reforms in their present form. It appears central government is pushing ahead with the fourentity model that would see Waipa¯ in Entity B which encompasses 22 local bodies and geographically a majority of the central North Island. Despite the majority of the rhetoric being put out by the Department of Internal Affairs, recent changes to the model do very little to address the concerns of Waipa¯ nor the majority of councils and the public around the country. Thirty-two councils from across the country have come together to offer viable options for the reform of these lifeline services and a number of other councils, on behalf of their communities, also oppose the reforms in their present format. Unfortunately the debate has been diverted away from the critically important public health and environmental concerns by an equally important but unrelated issue about the democratic principles that underline our parliamentary democracy. Waipa¯ ’s position on the proposed reforms has not altered. It is acknowledged that in some circumstances reform is required but this does not mean that the four-entity model is the only option available. Local government in general has been asking for a change on how our water services are funded and for the enforcement of appropriate standards but that does not equate to the response by central government. To me the solution is simple. The Government should provide financial support to communities that genuinely need that support due a small rating base or specific challenges such as damage to existing infrastructure caused by natural events. This income redistribution is quite clearly a responsibility of central and not local government. Then establish affordable standards and enforce them. Councils are not opposed to change but are concerned to ensure our communities receive appropriate levels of service at an affordable cost. We are also responsible for undertaking due diligence over the ownership of hundreds of millions of dollars of community assets built up over many generations. Nothing the Government has stated with regard to the transfer of these assets to a new entity gives us any confidence that we will retain any meaningful property ownership rights. The convoluted proposed governance structure of six local government appointees and six iwi representatives to control effectively one of the largest company structures in the country is almost impossible to accept. Even if this was possible in the early stages of the new structure it would not be long before the technical and political institutional knowledge of the existing local bodies would be lost unless it is the expectation that we should continue to employ water services engineers or consultants to advise our representatives of the needs of our communities. There will be no accountability to the community and no meaningful way of controlling a professional board of directors with a very narrow focus. There is also still an extreme lack of creditable financial information that would give any confidence on the likely charges for these services and who is going to pay. Will the new entities have rating powers similar to local bodies or will the charges be to connected consumers and based on volumetric charges? Will tenants be expected to pay the sewerage charge or will it still be the property owner? How is stormwater, the elephant in the room, to be handled? At the moment, stormwater has largely been ignored in the discussion and left as a matter to be resolved but as stormwater causes about 95 per cent of the contamination to the Waikato River catchment, it is becoming more and more important because of climate change. It cannot be simply put in the too hard basket.