A high stakes game of chicken is being played between the Government and local councils around the country, including ours here in Hawke’s Bay.
At issue is how vital ‘3 waters’ infrastructure – drinking water, storm and wastewater – will be planned and paid for going forward.
Our councils protest that – mea culpa, past sins of omission aside – they can manage this activity better and, even more incredibly, pay for the necessary improvements without breaking their debt ceilings and the backs of their ratepayers.
No credible evidence has been supplied to support either claim.
Nevertheless, councils are working hard to generate a local populist outcry against the Government stealing our communities’ family jewels (actually, failing pipes and pumps, treatment plants that send our effluent into the Bay), with faceless bureaucrats deciding our water fates.
Politically, the councils are daring Government to swim against this tide of supposed public outrage and impose the consolidations that would rationalise water service delivery and make it less costly.
Very likely there’s a fair amount of posturing going on here, with the real outcome sought by councils being simply a ‘better deal’ from Government – e.g., a dollop more local voice and gobs more subsidy money from the Treasury. What mayor/councillor wouldn’t want more for less?
It’s a great re-election tactic for incumbent councillors to frighten and embrace their constituents, circle the wagons and protect us all from the invading Huns.
For its part, the Government – if it concludes that councils can’t see beyond their next local elections next year – wields the ultimate threat of dictating the outcome via legislation that requires all councils to participate like it or not … game over.
So who will blink first in this political game of chicken?
And how will the public respond?
Napier City Council’s survey of pubic opinion on this matter found that only 38% believed themselves to be ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ informed. And most of that ‘informedness’ would have been driven by councils’ one-sided war cries.
At the nub of this is equity and affordability of modern water systems … billions of dollars at stake nation-wide, hundreds of millions in HB. NCC touts that 48% of its survey respondents are prepared to pay more “to retain local representation for decision-making and service delivery?”
What a disingenuous framing of the question, linking the higher cost to “local representation” (as opposed millions more dollars required for pipes and pumps etc) after the previous question links representation to preserving local voice in “enabling growth in Napier” (implying Government control will quash Napier’s future). The pollster should be embarrassed for asking such loaded questions.
But even as loaded, 52% said they would not be willing to pay more. And, as the table below shows, most of those who said they would be willing to pay more were thinking in the neighbourhood of $200/year or less, which would be a drop in the bucket against the substantially higher costs actually looming ahead.
Watch the 48% who say they would pay more evaporate if told the actual higher cost would be $500 or $1,000 a year.
Given the disinformation flowing from our councils, it refreshing to see that at least some councils still appreciate fiscal reality. I strongly urge you to read this account from Newsroom providing the minority view from councils who support the Government plan.
What are our councils smoking that these poor folks haven’t yet found?!