On Wednesday, the Government introduced legislation that would change the rules by which local government reorganisations are initiated and adopted (as an element of broader proposed changes to the Local Government Act). Here is the full legislation.
The bill’s General Policy Statement indicates the goal of this aspect of the legislation: “The Bill also streamlines local government reorganisation procedures. It provides the Local Government Commission with greater flexibility to develop reorganisation proposals, and makes it easier for community-led proposals to proceed.”
Here are the key changes:
- We (citizens) can initiate a reorganisation application to the Local Government Commission (LGC). The bill proposes that a reorg application can be submitted by “any body or group with an interest in the governance of the area or areas that the reorganisation application relates to …”
- Before assessing an application, the LGC must determine that there is “significant community support” for it. Significant support is defined as: “Support from a large proportion of the community, or of the leaders of the community, for reform of the current local government arrangements.” The diverse A Better Hawke’s Bay group would certainly meet that test.
- Once the community support test is satisfied, the LGC then assesses the substance of the reorg proposal, looking especially at whether it promotes good local government by facilitating: a) efficiencies and cost savings; b) productivity improvements, both within the affected local authorities and for the businesses and households that interact with those local authorities; and c) simplified planning processes within and across the district or region through, for example, the integration of statutory plans or a reduction in the number of plans to be prepared or approved by the local authority.
- The LGC will consult with the affected public, both as it considers the original application and when it puts forward its own draft reorg proposal in response.
- After taking into account any feedback to its draft, the LGC then puts forward its final proposal. This can take effect without further public involvement, unless …
- A petition is signed by 10% of electors across the affected region, demanding a poll (at least 40 working days must be allowed for petitions to be circulated).
- If there is a poll, it occurs approximately 3-4 months from validation of the petition.
- To block the reorganisation, 50% of electors over the entire affected area must disapprove. Currently, 50% of electors in each affected jurisdiction must separately approve a reorg for it to proceed.
- If there is no petition and poll, or if a poll approves the reorg proposal, the LGC sets forth and orders a detailed reorg scheme, covering everything from structure and representation to rating provisions and disposition of local body assets and liabilities.
- The Local Government Minister can postpone the local body election date by up to one year if a reorg proposal appears to be progressing through the process. Thus, if a reorg application from Hawke’s Bay was proffered in a matter of months, the LGC review and proposal process, including any petition and poll, could be completed in 2013. Then conceivably our next local elections might be shifted from October 2013 to sometime in 2014 (good news for incumbents!).
The Government wants the legislation passed by September.
I expect that come September/October, proponents of reorganisation in Hawke’s Bay will be at or near the front of the line at the Local Government Commission.
P.S. The bill has other components that address local government purpose, fiscal accountability, mayoral powers, and assistance/intervention for struggling councils. We’ll look at some of these provisions in another post.