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Region’s future in our hands

Single council best way forward, says commission

By Don Farmer

[email protected]

The long awaited final proposal for the future of local government in Wairarapa is out, recommending the merger of the three district councils into one to be called the Wairarapa District Council.

With the proposal being much as was expected the ball is now in the court of electors throughout the district to either accept it or call for a poll.

Local Government Commission chairman Sir Wira Gardiner said, on releasing the outcome of the deliberations carried out over many months by he and his fellow commissioners, that the fate of the proposal lies in the hands of the Wairarapa public.

He said the Commission was confident the final proposal had advantages for Wairarapa and that there was strong support for it across the Wairarapa region.

Under the proposal South Wairarapa, Carterton and Masterton district councils would join forces, while regional council functions would remain the responsibility of Greater Wellington Regional Council.

An election would be held in October next year unless a poll is called for.

A poll would require at least 10 per cent of electors in any one of the existing district council jurisdictions to sign a valid petition to be presented to the Commission no later than October 11 this year.

A referendum involving electors across the whole of Wairarapa would then result, and if 50 per cent of voters were in favour of the final proposal it would go ahead.

Otherwise it would fail and the status quo would remain.

The implications of a petition forcing a referendum would potentially push out any local body elections for a further year, bringing it more or less in line with the normal electoral cycle.

If the new council is elected next year then it would sit for an initial four-year term and would be made up of a mayor elected across the whole of Wairarapa, plus 12 councillors elected from seven wards, including two rural wards.

The vexed question of where the seat of local government in Wairarapa would be if a combined council is formed has been sidestepped by the Commission.

It has not determined whether there should be a head office and has passed any decision on where staff should be located – and meetings held – to the new council.

On that score the Commission has simply decided that the “address for service” for the new council would be Masterton.

Likewise, the Commission has left the structure and staffing levels of the new council in the hands of the councillors themselves, while recognising there would likely be some senior management redundancies due to three councils becoming one.

It has listed advantages of a combined council as being less red tape for Wairarapa businesses, sport, arts and community groups, better council decision-making and advocacy for Wairarapa as a whole, as well as better financial resilience and more effective delivery of infrastructure.

There would also be more scope for specialist staff and “modest financial savings”.

During submission hearings on the draft proposal there was some conflict over the make-up of the Transition Board which will herald in the merger changes, if the merger goes ahead.

It came mostly from Masterton District Council which felt disadvantaged by being the largest of the three district councils but having two members on the board, the same as both Carterton and South Wairarapa.

In the final proposal the Commission has stuck with its decision to have two members from each of the councils on the board, along with an independent chairman appointed by the Commission, but has added in two iwi members, one from Rangitane o Wairarapa and the other from Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa.

Both Masterton and Carterton will have a Community Board, complementing those already long established in Featherston, Greytown and Martinborough, and intended to be an important link between individual communities and the new council.

Community boards would be empowered to make most “local decisions” with some exceptions including infrastructure decisions over drinking water, wastewater treatment and roading, which would always remain the realm of the council.

There would also be a Maori Standing Committee to advise and make recommendations to the council on matters involving iwi, plus a Rural Standing Committee to watchdog rural and coastal issues and make representations to the council.

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