I read with interest Mayor Yule’s  recent press release of last week where he announced his intention to stand for Mayor for his fourth term  in the October 2010 local elections, and indicated that he would run on a platform of unifying the Hastings District, Napier City and HB Regional Councils.

He gave a detailed view of how this unification would be structured.
On being elected in 2007, I was surprised to find the lack of a master plan for the Hastings District. Nor was there a constructive understanding with either the Napier City Council or HB Regional Council to work closely together and create benefits and efficiencies through regional  cooperation. Finally, there was no documented requirement for the Hastings District Council to deliver efficiencies for its ratepayers.

Consequently, in the latest long term planning process (LTCCP) completed in June 2009, I introduced a discussion document that lead to the HDC adopting resolutions to: a) set a 5 % efficiency savings target for the Council; and b) initiate formal discussions between Hastings District, Napier City and HB Regional Councils to produce greater regional cooperation around specific work programs.

This I believe to be a very good approach to building the relationships and operational efficiencies required to move the HB forward. This is a major positive step after the apparent lack of action since the last Amalgamation Referendum in 1999.

In this process, I had discussions with both Napier City  and HB Regional Councillors who have been very supportive of this approach. This “courtship” process (with specific targets, goals and timeframes) would enable the appropriate Councils to work together with committed Councillors to deliver better outcomes and efficiencies for the ratepayers.

It also may lead to amalgamation, or it may not. What Councillors and would-be Councillors need to be debating over the coming year is not amalgamation, but instead … why aren’t we getting the public’s business done better NOW?!
One of my concerns with Mayor Yule’s approach is that by seeking to make the coming 2010 election principally about amalgamation, the real issues that directly affect all our ratepayers will be ignored or minimised.
Some of these issues are:

• What activities should the Councils be involved in?

• How is the Council (HDC) going to remedy deferred maintenance in its footpaths, parks and halls?

• What is an acceptable level of debt?

• What level of rates increase is acceptable?

• What business units (e.g., Splash Planet, Holiday Park, VIC) should the Council operate and how?

• How should the Council interact with its stakeholders and customers, communities and community groups, and local businesses?

• How can the Council deliver greater outcomes for its communities?

• How can the Council improve its efficiencies?

• How can the private sector assist the Council to do its business better?

• Should the HDC be more proactive in regard to environmental issues within its boundaries?

It is my opinion that all Councils need to take a fresh look at their role, what they do, how they do it, can they do it better, and is this in the best interests of the ratepayer.

It is paramount that the ratepayers are more involved in this process and – given the historical politicial inertia on this matter – perhaps some new people need to sit around the council tables.

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