A merger between Wairarapa’s three councils is “inevitable”, one mayor says, although a question mark still hovers over when it will occur.
Conversations about merging the local bodies are ongoing, with two of the councils attending a high-level meeting on the topic last month.
Masterton District Council [MDC] mayor Gary Caffell said while investigations into the issue are still at an early stage, he thinks the three councils coming together is just a matter of time.
“I think it’s inevitable we will merge. It’s just a question as to when that inevitability will occur. It’s a no-brainer,” he said.
However, Caffell cautions more work is needed.
“We have to go through a lot of stuff to see whether it’s worth it,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it goes to the public for consultation.”
Caffell thinks it will be crucial to consider issues of economic viability, without committing to a timeframe at this stage.
“We need to look really seriously at each part of it. We need to make sure we are heading in the right direction.”
Caffell’s comments come after Carterton District Council [CDC] considered a report tabled on the issue and passed related resolutions at its council meeting last week.
The report addressed a meeting held with the Local Government Commission [LGC] on October 9.
The meeting was attended by leaders from Carterton and Masterton district councils to discuss the legislative process and the next steps councils need to consider.
Attendees included Caffell, Carterton mayor Ron Mark, LGC chair Brendan Duffey, and the chief executives of Masterton and Carterton councils.
No attendees from South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] were recorded as being at the meeting, although the meeting minutes noted that “SWDC has advised via Gary Caffell that SWDC wish to be part of the ongoing conversations with MDC and CDC and LGC”.
Mark said yesterday that, while work is in its early stages, he is keen to progress talks with the other councils.
“It’s clear I’m going to have to modify my expectations in the short term,” he said.
“The great news is LGC has said it’s possible to get it [the merger] done by the 2025 [local body] elections.”
Mark said adequate levels of resourcing will be needed to get things underway, adding that he’s “pleased CDC has already put in $50,000 to resource it”.
“I hope MDC will join us in resourcing this work and I’m hoping SWDC will join this conversation.”
Mark said MDC wants to look at the pros and cons of the issues involved, and Carterton’s council will work with MDC to do that.
“As I’ve said to Gary [Caffell], my only concern is with ending up spending three years and $450,000 and still not going anywhere,” he said.
“That would be a tragedy for Wairarapa.”
SWDC mayor Martin Connelly and deputy mayor Melissa Sadler-Futter were both asked to comment on the issue, and Sadler-Futter responded that SWDC’s position has not changed.
“We have always wanted to see a comprehensive review that looked at benefits, risks, alternatives, and the appetite for merger among our community, completed by the working group,” Sadler-Futter said.
“Whilst we didn’t feel that we had the information required to commit to one outcome, we have always viewed this as the very beginning of the conversation.”
Last week’s report to CDC said discussion at the LGC meeting had indicated two paths towards merger.
“One path is council-led. The other path is led by the LGC,” the report said.
The council-led process could be completed in time for the 2025 local body election, while it’s unlikely a commission-led process would be.
The report set out what could happen next, noting that “the very next step in the council-led process is to get the three councils to agree a resolution, commit funding towards the project, and set up a working group to progress the investigation”.
The LGC has confirmed it would support a combined Wairarapa proposal and can help if asked.
CDC passed resolutions at last week’s council meeting to investigate the formation of a combined Wairarapa Council, in partnership with Masterton and/or South Wairarapa councils.
Mark, deputy mayor Dale Williams, councillor Robyn Cherry-Campbell, and chief executive Geoff Hamilton were appointed to the joint working group, which will elect an independent chair to lead the investigation.
CDC also approved $50,000 to support the investigation on the condition that the other councils make similar commitments.
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