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Pound sparks new talk of amalgamation

Masterton District Council is scaling back its plans for a $1.46 million animal facility. PHOTO/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

The failure to create a combined Wairarapa dog pound sparked amalgamation talks at a Masterton District Council [MDC] meeting.

When MDC’s infrastructure and services committee met last week, it was made public the council was scaling back its plans for a $1.46 million animal facility.

The council had asked a contractor to provide a “value engineering reassessment” of the build, and a new concept was developed that would result in the new building only providing dog shelter.

The previous design included a staff room and interview room.

A preliminary design and costings were set to be completed by the end of April, and councillors would be made aware of these through a workshop.

Meanwhile, Carterton District Council had already broken ground on its new dog pound, and South Wairarapa District Council had not locked in any plans for theirs.

At last week’s committee meeting, Masterton councillor Tim Nelson asked if it was possible to look at a shared service approach for the dog pound.

“I know it’s been looked at before.

“Is that a possibility?”

Last year, it was made public that all three Wairarapa councils were forging ahead with their own animal shelter plans, despite years of talks for a combined facility.

The failed attempt also contributed to the demise of the three councils’ Shared Services Group, which councillor Tina Nixon said ultimately had “no teeth”.

She said each council was acting with self-interest, and each wanted a pound in its own district.

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Masterton had proposed the idea of other councils chipping in for construction costs for a facility in Masterton and then paying ongoing management costs, but this was untenable for the other councils.

There had also been talks between Carterton and South Wairarapa for a joint facility, but this never progressed.

“I think we have gone as far as we possibly can on this issue – and it’s not for want of trying,” Nixon said.

“We’ve tried to get the councils to work together, but it always comes down to the parochialism of each individual council.

“I think it’s something to do with the operational funding side of things that irritates them.

“They are quite happy to put money into a capital cost but don’t like the idea of having to keep paying for management services, and I think that is one of the stumbling blocks.”

There was also no shared ownership model that worked for the councils.

Nixon said Wairarapa did not need three dog pounds “with a combined cost of $2.5m”.

With more people using social media and other online tools to reunite lost dogs quickly, and with the number of impounded dogs dropping, she said MDC was on track to build a “Hound Hilton” for what could be a reduced need.

“If anything, the dog pound issue is the one thing that convinces me that the quicker we unite the three councils under the one umbrella, the better,” Nixon said.

She said each council was doing things in the interests of their own ratepayers and not in the best interests of the whole Wairarapa.

“Unless you have an organisation that sits across the three councils that can actually drive change like this, we are going to carry on down the path of big expenses across Wairarapa for no good reason.”

In his latest mayoral column, Mayor Greg Lang made a similar reference to shared services.

“We need to give ourselves credit – Wairarapa councils work better together than other councils,” he said.

The three Wairarapa councils had saved substantial costs by combining their district plan reviews, but he said there was still more room for co-operation and shared services.

“We have a premier events centre here in Carterton,” he said.

“Do we need one in every town, or can we better invest our collaborative funds across the region?

“If we are going to go forward sustainably as a region, we need to start working smarter.”

There had been previous attempts to amalgamate the three Wairarapa councils in some form.

In 2015, the Local Government Commission canned a proposal for a Wellington supercity, which included Wairarapa, due to a lack of public support.

Then in 2017, a majority vote shut down an amalgamation of Wairarapa’s three councils.

The Government was undergoing a Future for Local Government Review, which aimed to achieve a resilient and sustainable local government system that was fit for purpose and had the flexibility and incentives to adapt to the future needs of local communities.

A draft report and recommendations would be issued to the public on September 30. — NZLDR

  • Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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