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Masterton District Council: Candidates answer key questions

Local election voting papers are out, and Masterton’s ward candidates are eagerly seeking support from the community. Local Democracy Reporter EMILY IRELAND got candid with the candidates.

 

If there is one thing you want voters to know about you, what is it?

At large ward

Brent Gare
I’m involved in the community at so many different levels. I love this place, have the passion, energy, and time to help make Masterton a place we can all be proud of. I give countless, often unseen, hours to a wide variety of projects. Often people make judgments without knowing the full story.

Brent Goodwin
I believe council works best when there is vigorous and open debate in public meetings. MDC has far too many of their meetings [workshops] behind closed doors, with the public excluded.

Hewitt Harrison
My integrity has never been questioned throughout my life – hence my emphasis on affordability, transparency and accountability.

David Holmes
I am married to Valmai, a primary school teacher. I have three daughters and seven grandchildren. I have been involved with the land, farming all my life. I have also been involved with many community organisations and have been a councillor four and a half terms.

Stella Lennox
I have an abundance of energy, and I will get on with the job.

Sandy Ryan
I am reliable, hard-working, and committed to improving Masterton for all residents. I have 22 years experience working in community development and more recently as the national funding and project manager for a disabled people’s organisation.

General Ward

Craig Bowyer
My business and governance background. Twenty years owning my own companies, employing up to 25 people. I’m on the Masterton District Council SAG committee, the Wairarapa Road Safety Council, chair of the Wairarapa Automobile Association, Associate Member of the NZ Institute of Directors, and National Council Member for the NZ Automobile Association.

Gary Caffell
I have thrived as a leader both in the community and sporting spheres over many years and will never shirk a challenge, something we are going to have plenty of over the next three years. I understand the value of teamwork and building respect, both within and outside council.

Graham Dick
I have lived and worked in and around the Masterton District since the early 1970s. I have seen failing infrastructure both on the rural roads and sewage overflows in the urban area. I have witnessed many nice to have projects take priority over basic sewage and water systems. I will push for council to prioritise sewage and water upgrades.

Tom Hullena
I am inspired by the concept of a better community for all. I work hard and commit to this cause.

Peter James
No matter what your colour, race or politics, I am happy to talk to anyone and have an open discussion.
All Masterton residents should be treated the same. I have no political or personal agenda for being on the council. I am anti the new Town Hall and Three Waters.

Bex Johnson
As a councillor I am here to serve the community, not myself.

Tim Nelson
I have 12 siblings, so I know what it’s like to struggle financially. I believe that this enables me to resonate with those who are placed under pressure with the impact of rising rates; I know the value of every dollar and the importance of wise spending on what is important.

Chris Peterson
I think council is not yet doing enough to raise awareness in our community around the changes that climate change will necessitate in so much of what we do.
Increasingly it will come to dominate our lives, and I passionately believe there needs to be a least one councillor at the table beating that drum.

Ryan Soriano
Apart from my governance and management experience, I am readily available to represent the public and for diversity in council.

What is the biggest challenge or stumbling block facing your town and how will you work to address this as an elected representative?

At large ward

Brent Gare
There are many challenges around our infrastructure. That has to be a priority. While these are not quick and easy fixes, a solid plan that is communicated with residents well is a must.

Brent Goodwin
Unnecessarily high rates. I’d wish to focus on essentials rather than the nice-to-haves, such as Civic Centre, that have dominated recently.

Hewitt Harrison
The town faces a problem of rejuvenation – fixing this is compromised by the need to do a catch-up with investment in the town’s water infrastructure – by far the most important challenge at present.
I will work to ensure council accesses the funding to address these challenges.

David Holmes
Infrastructure. With major increases in new housing and infill housing, this is putting massive pressure on water and wastewater. Continue with upgrading older water and sewerage pipes. By Pass, acting as a stopbank from Fire Station up the Waipoua river to Ngaumutama Rd, get the trucks out of town.

Stella Lennox
I will work hard to support the development of a unified council that engages with all sections of our community.
All councillors need their fingers on the pulse so we can ensure we are providing the right services, at the right level of quantity and quality, which our ratepayers are prepared to pay for.

Sandy Ryan
Wastewater. We know it will take a tier 1 and tier 2 workforce and north of $60m to complete the work over a number of years. If I could have the problem fixed immediately, I wouldn’t hesitate. Unfortunately, that is not possible. We would serve the community best if we looked at purchasing those properties most affected.

General ward

Craig Bowyer
Councillors need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. The culture needs to change to bring council and community together. We need to build trust through honesty and transparency – then we can work together to make things happen.

Gary Caffell
Having a young mother tearfully tell me about having to potty-train a child on a portaloo because of the water infrastructure hassles in certain parts of town makes this an absolute no-brainer. We have to place the enhancement of our water infrastructure at the top of every priority list.

Graham Dick
The biggest challenge facing Masterton district is having a united council behind a new Mayor Gary Cafell in order to progress work on refocusing the district’s Long-Term Plan to shift the emphasis away from the Civic Centre Project and CBD upgrade to prioritising infrastructure upgrades. The current Long-Term Plan is no longer fit for purpose.

Tom Hullena
Climate change is the greatest challenge facing humanity. More needs to be done to protect, secure, and manage water so that it meets human and environmental needs both now and in the future. If elected, I will commit to ensuring council works with relevant bodies to meet this end.

Peter James
The cost of living here, ie rates. It is simply not affordable for most people. I see savings that can be made in spending and waste to help keep rates down, including massive council staff blowouts. Front-line staff will not be affected. Cost-benefit analysis for all projects.

Bex Johnson
Bringing the community and council back on to the same page. This will take listening and talking and collaboration. Council needs to open its ears and engage with its many stakeholders with an open mind and a view to finding solutions that are affordable for ratepayers.

Tim Nelson
It has been a challenge being on a council that had such differing views on what is important. A key example of this was the decision to purchase the civic centre site in the northern end of town. As one of only two councillors who opposed this from the very start, this was incredibly frustrating.

Chris Peterson
Climate change is not a tomorrow problem. The science is clear, we are fast running out of time to act. Council, as community leaders, I believe have a responsibility to raise awareness and facilitate a shared community response to best preserve our prosperity and quality of life.

Ryan Soriano
The biggest challenge is the public assumption that every programme/project of the council has been pre-decided with no public consultation. We need to change this culture. Moving forward, members of the public who are vocal should be listened to, and those who are not, should be approached to seek their voice.

What initiative would you like to facilitate as an elected member?

At large ward

Brent Gare
The establishment of a dog park – I have already started to work on this. Also to continue the work I’m doing around the feasibility of a splash pad.

Brent Goodwin
Prune rates by reducing staff numbers. In recent years staff numbers at MDC have doubled, and their cost to the ratepayer has gone from $5.6m per year to currently over $14m per year. Also, I will focus on essentials rather than nice to haves.

Hewitt Harrison
I would like to initiate greater communication with the community – both in informing the community of what council is doing for them, and in terms of listening to what the community has to say – greater transparency in other words.

David Holmes
Water storage has to be seriously looked at, both potable and water for security in summer. Compulsory tanks for new builds. Educate everybody on water usage. Wastewater is a resource. Reignite Homebush Irrigation Consortium, disposal of wastewater to land for irrigation, not to river.

Stella Lennox
Again, lots of ideas. However, one I would love to see come into fruition is compulsory water storage tanks as a consent requirement on all new builds, as well as a subsidised scheme for all current homes within our region.

Sandy Ryan
The building of pensioner units on the spare land at Laurent Place and the sale of Panama for mixed housing; social and affordable.

General ward

Craig Bowyer
That Masterton is seen as being a destination. Celebrate our agriculture, celebrate our arts, and celebrate our airshow. Get community and business on board to support these initiatives for growth.

Gary Caffell
Our library is too small and we have $5 million already ear-marked for its upgrade. We can facilitate that on the current site and work could start very early in the triennium. Why wait when the money is there?

Graham Dick
I want the council to prioritise understanding how much progress has been made so far on renewing sewage and water systems to date and what plans are in place to deal with the problem areas. $2.5m has been allocated to upgrading the Homebush sewage plant. This is ambulance at the bottom of the cliff stuff.

Tom Hullena
I would willingly take on any initiative that is determined as being in the best interests of the town. My personal preference would be in the “My Masterton, My People, My Land [He Hiringa Tangata, He Hiringa Whenua] Strategy, or alternatively in the infrastructure space.

Bex Johnson
I would like to review our works strategies, project commitments and staffing levels with a view to finding additional budget to divert and invest into core infrastructure.

Peter James
Change the attitude of the council from being “We spend, how much do the rates need to be?” to “What can the people of Masterton afford?”. Council needs to be more open and accountable to the ratepayers. They work for the people. Start a review of council practices and methods.

Tim Nelson
I would like to see a focus on the fundamentals and basics of what will help our district run as effectively and efficiently as possible. My belief is that this will happen if we address key infrastructure and, once this is done, other initiatives will follow, but the foundations must be in place first.

Chris Peterson
Many community members are also deeply concerned about the future and how we adjust and adapt to climate change and its impact, not only on our natural environment but equally our economy and way of life.
Council could play an important role in bringing those people together and partner with them in shaping a positive and constructive response.

Ryan Soriano
Improve basic infrastructures – waters, roads, housing to at least help address some intermediary social determinants to our community’s health and wellbeing.

If you could overturn one past governance decision, what would it be?

At large ward

Brent Gare
I made a push to halt council lunches and have money go to community organisations instead. While this did eventually happen, it was voted down earlier.
I would’ve loved to have seen this happen earlier.

Brent Goodwin
Their decision to pursue an extravagant Civic Centre [$72m at last count] and to rearrange the CBD around that centre [$35m-$45m].

Hewitt Harrison
The one decision I would overturn is the decision to proceed with a $70m+ Civic Centre – there are more economic solutions that can and should be pursued.
And MDC has the sites already in its possession to pursue such options.

David Holmes
Council not listening to ratepayers over the decision to move from the existing Town Hall site.
As a councillor, knowing where the proposed site was to be purchased and not being able to communicate this to the public was wrong.
We must listen to ratepayers as we move ahead.

Stella Lennox
The time, money and energy spent on the decision about the Civic Centre, that is yet to be decided on.
This project process has not been thoroughly thought out with far too much “consultation” with non-locals, and the community continues to suffer the ongoing costs of this.

Sandy Ryan
To allow subdivisions on land that is not appropriate for residential development.

General ward

Craig Bowyer
The decision six years ago by council to investigate shifting the Town Hall and library to a new site. It has proven to be a great exercise in time-wasting, and a huge cost to ratepayers.
We could have, by now, been using the strengthened building and have moved on.

Gary Caffell
Spending a very significant amount of money on a new civic centre without having a location was bizarre. I would dearly love to be able to overturn the 6-5 vote, which saw the current town hall site fail to become an option for this project, and therefore have the most viable option back in play.

Graham Dick
Up to July 11, 2022, council had spent $641,558 on the civic centre project with final accounts for professional services still to come. Council voted to continue “complementary work” and review with a budget of $300,000. All that adds up to more than $1m to achieve absolutely nothing, just an estimated cost blow out to $70m.

Tom Hullena
It is difficult to critique council decisions without being privy to all council information. One change I would like to push for is the use of a structured and principled framework to guide council decision-making. This will better ensure the right decisions are made and for the right reasons.

Peter James
The decision to buy land and build a new Town Hall. It has gone on too long, the budget has blown out and there are far more important things we need as a town. Listen to the people as it’s their money. Do we actually need a Town Hall?

Bex Johnson
The decision to look for a new site in the northern end of town for the civic centre/town hall.

Tim Nelson
The decision not to invest the entire 3.88 million of Better Off Funding into wastewater projects. My amendment being voted down was my biggest disappointment in my three years on council. I was extremely disappointed in the councillors who didn’t support the motion, and very upset for those families who have portaloos on their properties.

Chris Peterson
We missed an opportunity in not amalgamating the three councils when it came to a vote a few years back. There are models that would both promote local democracy and still allow Wairarapa to speak with one voice and secure some financial savings through economies of scale. And, of course, there is the matter of the Civic Centre.

Ryan Soriano
The Cannabis legislation.

What are your top three priorities in the role?

At large ward

Brent Gare
A strong focus on infrastructure. Doing the little things well, such as a dog park and if possible a splash pad. Ensure a strong a vibrant community for everyone – from families to older people.

Brent Goodwin
Focus on keeping rates to a minimum. Focus on essentials – not nice to have vanity projects. Press for MDC to conduct more of their business in open public meetings rather than the behind closed doors and secret workshops so common now.

Hewitt Harrison
My top three priorities are to A halt the Civic Centre project, B, find the funding to fix the water infrastructure and C, bring about a CBD revamp that is affordable and will rejuvenate the town

David Holmes
Continue my 100 per cent positive commitment. Always available, now more work with fewer councillors. Consultation with the community.
I feel that this term council didn’t consult enough with ratepayers. We need a Civic Centre. Council has to involve all groups to come up with a decision, on existing ratepayer-owned site.

Stella Lennox
Infrastructure – get our basics working properly. Rates affordability – reset these so it’s a fair price for all, not a blanket approach. Community Engagement – ensure transparency by working closely with my colleagues to develop a culture in council that allows for our district to grow and involves the total community through good engagement.

Sandy Ryan
Good governance by having solid, researched, and financially prudent information. A strategy and work programme to address the wastewater issue in parts of Masterton. A plan that is affordable and meets the community’s expectations for a place to come together and celebrate who we are, our diversity and history.

General ward

Craig Bowyer
Sort out the stormwater issues, fix the roads, better recycling options. Reticulation – Roads – Rubbish. Do the things we need well. The rest is a nice to have, not a need to have. Together we can do better and get Masterton the way you want it.

Gary Caffell
Enhancement of our water infrastructure, facilitating early decisions on both the civic centre and library, building trust between community and council.

Graham Dick
Repurposed Municipal building, Town Hall and Library on present sites. Remove sediment from Lake of Remembrance before it is lost, use the sediment to rehabilitate the redundant ponds at the Homebush sewage works.

Tom Hullena
Ensuring effective water protection, security, and management. Ensuring council is clear and transparent about its core business and this is prioritised. Ensuring MDC is operationally efficient and cost-effective, and the benefits of any major projects far outweigh their costs.

Peter James
Reduce closed-door and public-excluded workshops and meetings where possible. More democratic decision-making. Councillors decide policies, not council staff or Wellington i.e. Three Waters being forced on councils. Rates need to be affordable, realistic, and for core services, not fancy “nice to haves”.

Bex Johnson
Improving our stormwater infrastructure, water resilience and storage, rebuilding the town hall and library at their current sites.

Tim Nelson
Infrastructure, infrastructure, and infrastructure!

Chris Peterson
Climate change – and in dealing with this issue, you would need to also address many others deeply affecting our quality of life: warm and healthy homes, meaningful employment in new sustainable industry, closing the inequality gap, overconsumption and needless waste, restoring our wonderful native biodiversity, and being happier and healthier. Could be inspiring and exciting!

Ryan Soriano
Civic centre – to establish one and make it an icon like the lighthouse at Castlepoint. Neighbourhood Security – e.g. more street lighting, upgraded CBD surveillance cameras. Surface flooding.

Responses were only edited for clarity or to reduce word count as specified in instructions to candidates.
Masterton candidates Hakepa and Drew Hullah did not respond.
Masterton Maori Ward candidate Marama Tuuta ran unopposed and is elected.
This is the second in a multi-part series. Up next: South Wairarapa candidates.

– NZLDR
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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