Costs may rise under water reforms

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    PROPOSED water reforms could end up costing the south but there may be no option but to get on board with the changes.

    The three waters reforms were revealed by the Government last week and will lead to the creation of four regional water entities throughout the country. It covers drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.

    In the information released, water infrastructure in New Zealand was said to be in need of repair and many districts, and ratepayers, were looking at having to pay for major changes.

    The proposal was to create the four entities across the country which would share resources and enjoy benefits of economics of scale. The entities would be owned by local councils and run by a board which would be appointed by an independent panel made up of a representative group from councils and Manu Whenua.

    The entire South Island would be in one entity minus parts of the Tasman and Marlborough districts.

    Costs were outlined and showed how much would be put on ratepayers.

    Southland District Council ratepayers pay $1430 annually for water. If it was to take up the option of the new entity, costs would only increase by just over $200 over the next 30 years.

    But if it decided to not go with the new entity and went on its own, costs may rise to more than $8500 annually.

    In Invercargill, water costs are about $830 annually. If the changes go through, costs will increase to $1640 but would balloon to $5300 with no changes.

    The Government had not yet announced whether it was voluntary to join the scheme or whether it will be compulsory to join it.

    Southland District Mayor Gary Tong said there was plenty of information to go through.

    Until the council did that, it was hard to make any real comment about the proposal.

    The Southland district had a number of water schemes being about 30% of its business.

    Staff would still be needed to do the work on the water infrastructure and there would still be a need for “soldiers on the ground”, Mr Tong said.

    Invercargill Deputy Mayor Nobby Clark was not convinced by the new proposal.

    For a whole raft of reasons, he would not want the council to opt in to the proposal.

    He said there were other issues around wastewater and its disposal, which was likely to increase costs.

    “We are one of the best performing councils with water so do we want to spend billions of dollars when it is not going to come here?” Clark said.

    “We know they are going to invest in Otago, in Queenstown, Wanaka, South Dunedin, and we will not see any of it.”

    If Christchurch pulled out then there would be no point in Invercargill staying in as the economics of scale argument did not stack up, he said.

    The water section was about 30% of council’s business.

    Cr Clark said another issue was the entire water sector lacked the expertise and staff to bring in the changes.

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