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Region’s mayors react to local authority proposals

Wairarapa mayors are welcoming many of the local government reform recommendations made by an independent panel this week.

The initial reactions of Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell, South Wairarapa Mayor Martin Connelly and Carterton Mayor Ron Mark are largely supportive of a number of the proposals in the final report of the Future for Local Government review panel, released on Tuesday.

The panel made a raft of recommendations intended to deliver better outcomes for local communities, notably increased funding for local authorities from central government, growing “authentic” Te Tiriti-based partnerships, and reducing the voting age to 16.

It recommended a reorganisation of local government and resourcing councils to deal with challenges posed by climate change and prepare for a more complex future.

The panel concluded local communities are not well served by the relationship between local and central government, and a reset is needed.

All three mayors were supportive of funding proposals.

Connelly said he strongly endorses the need for local government to have additional funding.

“It might not be well known, but central government’s tax policies over the past 100 years have seen the government’s share of GDP rise from about 6 per cent to 35 per cent, while local government’s share has remained about two per cent,” he said.

“The government has pushed more and more responsibilities onto local government without the additional funding needed to carry out those responsibilities.”

Connelly endorses the call for a four-year term for councils but is unsure about lowering the voting age or changing the voting system.

“New Zealand has moved strongly towards a more centralised system of government where local knowledge and voices have been increasingly ignored. And this is at a time when climate change and natural disasters make it clear the best responses to many problems are locally led,” he said.

Caffell acknowledges the panel’s willingness to make pointed recommendations.

“There is a bravery to the content which sits well with me,” he said.

He thinks the pressure will be on central government to facilitate the proposed changes, and welcomes the funding recommendations.

“The panel have been smart in identifying any merger of councils being seen as reorganisation rather than amalgamation, as the latter has almost become a dirty word in local government these days,” he said, adding this would take time.

“It is far too early to suggest with any certainty which direction Masterton council would take. But I would like to think that when those conversations are taking place, we are always cognisant of the fact that we need to be working alongside our neighbouring councils in the decision-making process.”

Mark is also pleased with the panel’s funding recommendations.

“There has been a long-held view of many in local government that successive governments have been loading ratepayers with extra duties, responsibilities, and roles and functions without any consideration whatsoever for fiscal cost,” he said.

“It has also been widely recognised for quite some time that councils have struggled to meet infrastructure challenges because of financial pressure, the consequences on rates, and political backlash. Can-kicking became the norm for some councils.

“The government needs to listen to councils and the independent panel.” – NZLDR

    Public Interest Journalism funded through NZOnAir

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