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New Masterton council boss shares his ambitions for the region

The new chief executive at Masterton District Council [MDC] sees plenty of potential for his old hometown and the district as a whole.

Kym Fell comes to MDC from his previous role in the senior leadership team at Wellington City Council, where he was chief customer and community officer, and an earlier stint as chief executive of Whanganui District Council.

“This is really coming home for me. I was born here and went to primary school here,” he said.

Fell has memories of school holidays at local beaches, and spending time with family in the region.

“My uncle and aunt used to own the Castlepoint store, so I went there on lots of holidays,” he said.

“My grandparents were all from here. My uncles and aunts were based in this area. My Dad was a policeman here.”

He always had a long-range plan to return.

“I’ve had a strong pull to this area, and making sure that we do the best for the people here.”

Although it’s early days, having started his new job on 25 September, Fell said he’s impressed with what he has seen, although there is work to do.

“My early observations are that we have a very progressive council genuinely focused on community outcomes. Our mayor and councillors are deeply engaged on a local level and appear to be strong advocates championing the people they represent,” he said.

He described MDC as a “relatively lean” organisation, adding there are always opportunities for improvement, including the reprioritisation of resources.

He sees ageing infrastructure and limited funding mechanisms for associated growth, renewals, and general maintenance as a major issue to be addressed.

“One of our greatest challenges is maintaining affordable services for Masterton, particularly with cost-of-living pressures. This means a greater lens on levels of service to refine what we deliver and the way we deliver these services,” he said.

As in many provincial districts, climate change and major weather events are having an impact, along with shifting demographics, and central government reforms like three waters, he said.

A key challenge will be to balance addressing those reforms with progressing priority projects like local wastewater upgrades and the civic centre project.

Fell is also open to discussing closer co-operation with other councils.

“From my perspective, we need to keep rates affordable for the communities we serve. If that means a discussion around a shared-service delivery model or a future Wairarapa council, then let’s have that conversation.

“The financial pressures and constraints on territorial authorities make it difficult for smaller-sized councils to remain sustainable.

“Parochial views aside, the focus should be on ‘What is the best outcome for residents of Wairarapa’.”

Fell said the thought of amalgamating into a Wellington supercity is considerably less desirable than the region creating its own destiny, especially on local issues.

“At the end of the day, our community will decide,” he said.

He listed a raft of the region’s strong points, including proximity to Wellington while having the lifestyle benefits of a rural area.

“We have amazing experiences, including wineries, accommodation, and a bustling restaurant and cafe scene,” he said.

“Wairarapa is ‘open for business’ with affordable commercial land available for development. We are an important region for agri-business, manufacturing, and healthcare.

“We also have a strong and important Māori investment sector adding great value to our region.

“Housing affordability remains within reach compared to some other regions, and we are incredibly lucky to have accredited training institutes, quality healthcare providers, and great retailers on our doorstep.

“Why would you live anywhere else?”

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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