Central Government’s Three Waters Reform is one of the most radical proposals I have seen during my time in local government.
Wairoa’s stance is that we would prefer status quo with additional external funding, but we don’t believe the government will agree to this simple fix. Therefore, we are working with the rest of Hawke’s Bay to see if we can develop a regional approach as we cannot see Wairoa benefitting from the government’s proposal. We have joined the four other Hawke’s Bay Councils to review the analysis and modelling behind the Government’s proposal to transfer the delivery of Three Waters from Councils to four multi-regional entities.
Local authorities have until October 1 to consider the impact of the reforms. The discovery of the Delta variant of COVID-19 places New Zealand in a vulnerable position. However, we cannot let the Level 4 lockdown distract us from ensuring the best possible Three Waters outcomes for our communities.
The Three Waters Reform is a national approach, but it carries with it serious ramifications for small communities like Wairoa. We are told we will be better off, but the figures that are being used and supplied by Central Government simply do not stack up.
There are some significant questions we have been asked by our community that we simply don’t have the answers to.
Questions like, will it be the people who are directly connected to the Three Waters, ie, predominantly those who live in town, who will pay more?
Presently rural septic tank owners pay an annual fee and a blanket charge of 10% towards Three Waters. What will this charge look like under a new entity?
Will Wairoa’s remoteness mean higher costs for our people to receive these services?
Why hasn’t the government consulted with our communities and why now does Council have to pick up the cost of having a conversation with the community?
Mahia residents personally invested millions of dollars into the Mahia sewage scheme – will they be reimbursed?
In Wairoa, Affco receives a reduction in its water rate based on the significant contribution it made to our water supply? This is a mutually beneficial arrangement that saves Affco investing in its own supply and provides a significant contribution to the fixed costs of the Wairoa water supply. Without Affco, town water would be more expensive. Will a new Three Waters entity recognise this contribution?
Every area of New Zealand has such vastly different Three Waters requirements. Why can’t the government prioritise and fund the issues and develop a future plan for the whole country that doesn’t involve creating new entities?
Under the government’s proposal, Wairoa District Council, and the rest of Hawke’s Bay, would be part of an entity that runs from the East Coast down to Wellington and the top of the South Island. Wairoa’s current debt, Three Waters staff, and income would make up one percent of the combined 21 local councils in the entity. How are we ever going to have a say and have our local voice heard when we only make up one percent?
How will this new entity even work without totally duplicating the services Councils already provide?
Currently, Council’s rates carry a UAGC (Uniform Annual General Charge) which is apportioned across the entire district for services that most residents benefit from irrespective of property value. Administration of billing etc is absorbed within the UAGC – how will billing be charged out by the new entities? How will this even be administrated? There are so many anomalies, such as Māori land, DoC land, etc. which is currently all sorted by local Councils and all on one rating bill.
Is this the start of the removal of other services from local government? You might not always agree with the decisions that Councils make but we are accessible, local and available. We understand our communities and you can vote and have your say through your elected members. Under this proposed new entity, I cannot see how Wairoa, with its one percent, can have a say at all.
The Wairoa District Council manages $103 million of Three Waters infrastructure assets on behalf of our ratepayers. So far, the government has given us $11 million as part of the post-Covid stimulus, plus they are now dangling another $18 million. That only represents 18% of the value of our assets. Will our ratepayers be reimbursed?
The whole reform process has been a shocker. Local government is expected to consult at every level yet central government has ploughed through with this proposal with hardly any consultation and ignoring the consultation process that they expect local government to carry out.
And as we are all very much aware, what happens when our assets get taken over by these four large entities and then privatisation occurs? Who will benefit from the sale of our assets? No government can promise that won’t happen.
Figures we have been given by central government as part of the Three Waters review indicate the Wairoa District Council would need to spend $1.6 billion on Three Waters, over the next 30 years. We believe this figure is way too much and is eight times what Council is forecasting on spending and six times what Council indicated in the Request for Information paperwork it filled out for the Department of Internal Affairs at the beginning of this process.
Our Council was recognised as a high performer in the Three Waters space, higher than other bigger councils, so it is very confusing why, if we have such a high performance, our forecasted spend would be so high?
I thought the 2015 proposal to amalgamate the five Hawke’s Bay councils was a scary time. But at least we were able to join as a region, common sense prevailed, and the proposal was overturned.
Now, again, this is a time for Hawke’s Bay to rally together and present a united front with regional solutions.
I really urge as many people as possible to become informed and join us on our campaign to get the best result for all our Hawke’s Bay communities.