Council wants local voice heard

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    A COUNCILLOR believes Southland will not have any representation or any voice if his council joins the Government’s proposed Three Waters reform.

    Don Byers raised his concerns during a Southland District Council (SDC) meeting yesterday where a presentation about the proposal was discussed.

    The Government has asked councils across the country to provide feedback on its proposal by the end of the month.

    At the start of the meeting, mayor Gary Tong highlighted it was not a time to make any decision.

    However, he said the status quo was not an option.

    Cr Byers believed SDC should include, as part of the feedback, that the council would like to retain the ownership of its infrastructure.

    He believed as Southland was a region with a small population, it would be impacted on the proposed model as the new entity would be made up by about 12 board members half those being Maori representation and half from councils.

    “We don’t have a big population so I think it is a given, really, that we are not going to have any representation or any voice at this new entity level.

    “We would be naive to think that we would.”

    He urged council to advise the Government it wanted to maintain ownership of its assets and start a discussion on how council could do that.

    Cr Byers believed SDC should do things differently, including motivating residents to reuse their roof water and manage human waste in a different way.

    Mr Tong said council already did that, but said he could not agree with Cr Byers’ comments Southland would not have effective representation.

    He said the region would advocate to maintain its local voice or at least would have its voice heard through the Southland Mayoral Forum.

    Other questions were raised about the financial implication for ratepayers and how they would be charged.

    Despite council officers not having answers to those questions, SDC group manager services and assets Matt Russell said one of the goals of this proposal was to reduce the costs for ratepayers.

    Whether this would effectively happen was still to be seen, he said.

    Cr Rob Scott said it was hard “to support something that was still so unknown”.

    Christine Menzies said the local government bodies were also under review by the Government and this could impact this decision.

    She said those two reforms should not be considered separate.

    At the end of the debate, Mr Russell summarised the points debated.

    These included the council agreed with the boundaries proposed in the reform, but wanted to ensure the local voice was integrated to any entity or environment moving forward as there was a feeling the proposed structure did not provide an adequate input for the local voice.

    “We would like to see some alternative mechanism and perhaps we can utilise our Te Anau wastewater project committee format as an example of how that might be achieved moving forward.”

    The importance of retaining public ownership – both now and into the future, the concern about decision making based on population size and the need of a rural representation on this new entity would also be highlighted as part of council’s feedback, Mr Russell said.

    The discussion was adjourned for another meeting – which was still to be scheduled – where councillors would confirm the points discussed before sending its final feedback to the Government.

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