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Is it goodbye OneWairarapa?

The amalgamation debate in Wairarapa seems to have come to a grinding halt, with South Wairarapa and Masterton declaring they have no interest in advancing the discussions and Masterton having no plans for a merger within the next 10 years.

In 2017, Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell championed the virtues and opportunities of a combined Wairarapa Council through his “OneWairarapa” Facebook page. At that time, I was opposed to the Super City model and the combined district council, but rather pro the creation of a Wairarapa Unitary Authority. I didn’t believe that simply combining the three district councils went far enough.

The pro-amalgamation people can see the problems Wellington is grappling with, and for the first time, they see the need to amalgamate metropolitan councils. But how?

As Gary said in 2017, “most people realise that amalgamation will benefit all three of our districts and that it’s all about having a stronger Wairarapa … not a stronger Masterton.”

Every council faces serious challenges. Increases in roading costs and destructive weather patterns are adding pressure. Traffic management increases costs by 40 per cent and is out of our control.

These costs get passed onto ratepayers and have many worried.

We are all busy producing Long Term Plans and in South Wai’s case, an enhanced Annual Plan, knowing full well these plans will be out of date the day they are published.

No one predicted Carterton would cancel building a new administration building or the relocation of our depot to create a car park as proposed by the previous council. These projects were factored into projected rates increases and caused the community anxiety. Add to this skyrocketing construction and roading costs. In short, you can spend months pouring over an LTP, knowing it is only an estimate and will likely change within 12 months.

We’re striving to get ratings figures down to a more manageable level for residents struggling with increased costs of living, but proposing to increase rates to provide the same level of service in roading and parks and reserves worries me intensely. That people may well be forced to either sell up and move out of Carterton or to take out reverse mortgages so they can survive stresses our entire Council.

By maintaining separate councils, we are not addressing collective overheads, costs, inefficiencies and high operating costs across Wairarapa.

Shared services agreements were a fine idea, but evidence shows they are failing. Every time one council gets into strife, it pulls money, and agreements start falling over. Having one council ignoring these tripartite agreements by changing funding and undermining the delivery of those services is untenable.

We will continue to fail in the future as Masterton creates a Masterton-centric view of its problems. They could start cutting things like economic development and investment in tourism which will undermine all the good work people such as Business Wairarapa and the Wairarapa Economic Development Strategy are doing. The long-term future of Wairarapa and the businesses we rely on will be damaged, as the smaller councils who cannot carry the load on their own will be forced to cut back. Considering slashing and burning this funding on behalf of our whole region is extremely disappointing.

We can hide and hope, or look holistically and ask our neighbours – what are we trying to do? We should be doing the best for Wairarapa, and we can only do that collectively as one.

As we start cutting some services, there will be no going back. We will be debating the same problems next year, wondering why we didn’t move to rationalise overheads, staff, plant, equipment and administration costs. We need to build our infrastructure in a holistic and cost-effective manner by creating a One Wairarapa Council while we have the chance.

Some of us won’t be doing this job much longer. I fear I will be watching a retrenchment, a more self-centred approach, town by town, and that Wairarapa’s growth will be damaged.

1 COMMENT

  1. Councils CEOS MANAGERS AND OFFICERS DON’T WANT ANY CHANGE. Everyone is on the grave train except the RATE PAYERS. If they don’t amalgamate then Rates MUST CHANGE URBAN RATE PAYERS enjoy water. Sewerage. Footpaths. Busses. There are still more council goodies 😍. WE THE RURAL RATE PAYERS GET JACK SHIT FROM THE COUNCIL. NO 👎 MORE SUBSIDIZING USER PAYS . YOU WANT IT YOU PAY FOR IT.

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