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Voters pick and mix on merger

By Geoff Vause
[email protected]

Mayoral contenders in Wairarapa local government election this year offer a smorgasbord for the region’s political future.

Lyn Patterson is unopposed at Masterton District Council. Her position on any merger is succinct.

Mrs Patterson prefers a combined Wairarapa District Council with the relationship between Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) and the subsequent district council improved “through some sort of joint services committee”.

Carterton incumbent John Booth wants none of the options presented by Local Government Commission recently (Wairarapa Times Age July 30).

“If there is to be an amalgamation it must be because things can be done better, and it needs to be supported by the people,” Mr Booth said.

“Any final option must be put to the vote with the status quo so people can clearly choose between the two.

“We need a much closer look at the existing councils sharing more services,” he said.

“We don’t want rates creeping up. There’s only so much people can afford.”

Mike Osborne is the only contender for the position held by John Booth and is steadfastly in favour of the status quo.

“If there were clear advantages in any merger I’d view it,” Mr Osborne said.

“We know there may be some cost benefits but it’s all very vague.

“I asked the Local Government Commission at the Carterton meeting what tangible benefits merger would bring and they clearly said there were none.

“That’s pretty telling. What are we getting out of this?”

South Wairarapa has a relatively large field of mayoral candidates, with incumbent Adrienne Staples stepping down for a tilt at regional council.

Contender John Hayes believes a Wairarapa Unitary Council would be the strongest option.

This would combine regional and district functions into a single council.

“There are plenty of skilled people with a far better understanding of the Wairarapa,” Mr Hayes said.

“GWRC don’t want to listen to our people.”

He said the other options left too much fragmentation and gave the Wairarapa no voice in the GWRC.

“Wairarapa can run its affairs [while] cooperating with councils across the hill on areas of common interest like rail,” he said.

Contender Viv Napier also believes unitary merger is the best option, giving Wairarapa control over everything the GWRC currently does.

“Transport may be a problem in a unitary authority,” she said.

From the options polled by the Local Government Commission earlier this year Mrs Napier believes a combined Wairarapa District Council taking most regional council functions would be most workable.

This option would leave key roles in transport, emergency management and regional economic development with the GWRC.

South Wairarapa mayoral aspirant Graham Higginson wants “no amalgamation whatsoever”.

He prefers the status quo with some functions returned to district council from GWRC.

“Transport is hard to deal with and the train is the biggest bugbear, especially with many people moving to Wairarapa from Wellington”.

Liz Mellish believes a single Wairarapa District Council would work, keeping the GWRC in place.

“Any variations to that must be worked through with ratepayer agreement,” Mrs Mellish said.

“Other options have problems. Any change will be difficult as people have little trust.”

South Wairarapa’s Sue Fox supports the three-council merger “combining our resources to create one well-functioning district council”.

“At the moment we get great value for money from the regional council as our environmental management is subsidised by ratepayers south of the Hill,” Ms Fox said.

“I don’t believe in merger at all costs. The settings will need to be right. We need to ring fence our community’s aspirations during the first few years until any merger was well bedded in.”

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