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MDC wants stronger say

Masterton District Council has thrown its support behind a single Wairarapa council – but only if it gets a stronger say in influencing how that council might look and work.

Councillors voted unanimously last night in favour of a submission to the Local Government Commission (LGC) in support of amalgamation, with the document stating “MDC believes the advantages of one Wairarapa District Council outweigh disadvantages”.

But concerns about Carterton and South Wairarapa potentially having too much influence in determining key decisions means MDC is threatening to pull its support if certain conditions are not met.

Councillors Bex Johnson and Deborah Davidson explicitly said they were against amalgamation in last night’s discussion, but all councillors were happy to endorse the submission assuming the final amalgamation decision would go to a region-wide poll.

Councillors were also happy to “soften” some of the language used in the submission draft, but made it clear that Masterton’s position as having the biggest population should be reflected in any future combined council.

The council’s submission states that the LGC’s proposed transition body, should amalgamation get the greenlight, was “not fairly governed since unlike the proposed council, it is not based on population”.
As such, the transition body could make “biased” decisions in determining things such as where staff would be based.

To avoid such an “undemocratic” arrangement, the council will submit that two Masterton representatives are included on the transition board, “and only one from each of Carterton and South Wairarapa (or four from Masterton and two from each of the other existing districts)”.

“If this is not reflected in the final proposal, MDC withdraws its support unequivocally, since it cannot see how such a transition board will act in the best interests of Masterton district or its ratepayers.”

The transition body should also have much more limited powers than proposed, as Carterton and South Wairarapa representatives “may dominate” decisions determining what the future council might look like.

The submission also states that Masterton should be the principal office of a single Wairarapa council, as it is the commercial and retail hub for the region, as well as being the base for most Wairarapa-wide agencies.

“Siting the principal office anywhere else would be contrary to logic”, the submission states, although council and committee meetings could rotate between Masterton, Carterton and Martinborough.

Other points involved giving more teeth to the proposed community boards, and increasing the influence of Maori representation at the “highest level of decision making”.

The council’s submission said an amalgamated council would deliver more cost-effective services, reduce overlap and duplication, simplify service delivery, and provide the region with “a stronger voice politically”.

The region was clearly defined by “clear natural boundaries”, there was already one district health board, and Wairarapa residents already identified with regional sporting and cultural links.

Submissions to the LGC close today at 4pm, with about 800 received by yesterday morning.

Submission hearings will begin on May 23 and Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson and chief executive Pim Borren will speak for the council’s submission.

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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