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Published: 2014-02-28 00:00:00

Waikato people need the ability to drive funding for activities and events in their communities whatever the shape of the region’s councils in the future.

The regional council signed off its submission on the Local Government Amendment Bill yesterday, saying that if local government change resulted in a larger Waikato council, local boards needed to be able to raise their own rates in specific circumstances. 

Chairperson Paula Southgate said that Waikato Regional Council was not proposing any particular structure for local government in the Waikato, but wanted to play a constructive part in discussions about local government reform. 

“We want to have principles-based discussion about the form and function of local government and focus on collaborating with other councils to see how we can collectively drive greater efficiencies for our ratepayers,” she said. 

“We have an excellent opportunity to work together for the betterment of the region and all our communities,” she said. 

Cr Bob Simcock said the bill was setting up new options in the toolbox for reforming local council structures and it was important to make sure there was a wide range of tools in the kit. 

“The current view in Wellington is that local boards shouldn’t rate but in the event that a unitary authority is created, there needs to be provision for communities to be able to raise funds to deliver the activities and services they value,” he said. 

The bill enables the Local Government Commission to establish local boards as part of any new unitary authorities created through local government reform. Unitary authorities combine the work of city or district and regional councils and provide the benefits of economies of scale through region-wide planning and decision-making. Local boards share governance with the larger governing body, but their main purpose is to give local people a voice at the community level, make by-laws and decide on non-regulatory issues affecting their communities.

“In a region as diverse as ours we need to make sure the tools are available to meet the needs of Hamilton, New Zealand’s fourth largest city, as well as those of our rural areas, without these communities having to rely on the larger council signing off on all their funding,” Cr Simcock said.

Councillors felt that if local government reforms resulted in a larger Waikato council, there was a real risk that a council dominated by Hamilton interests would see rural areas miss out. On the other hand, if the council was predominantly rural, then urban interests could lose their voice on the larger council.

They agreed that if the Local Government Commission was proposing any reorganisation it should be able to recommend that specific local boards have the power to require the governing council to raise rates for a specific range of functions supported by the local community.

The current Waikato local government model includes a regional council and 11 territorial councils.

The council yesterday reviewed and approved the following set of 13 principles against which to test any proposals for change.

The form and function of local government in the Waikato region should ensure that:

  1. there is effective local government at the local community and regional level
  2. there is strong united and uniting leadership at the local community and regional level
  3. there is one clear voice for the Waikato region with respect to matters of regional significance
  4. at the regional level there is effective strategic integrated planning, at least with respect to land use, transport, hazards, infrastructure and economic development
  5. planning in the Waikato region is simplified, including fewer planning documents with more consistency across the region
  6. there is a clear and unambiguous division of responsibilities for regional and local community authorities
  7. the effectiveness and efficiency of local government procurement, infrastructure management and service provision is  optimised
  8. local government  entities have adequate capacity, capability, financial and other resources to successfully carry out their roles and responsibilities in a way that is affordable to their communities
  9. there is a clear process for iwi involvement in local government which recognises the importance and status of iwi in the region
  10. water management occurs at a scale that includes entire catchments
  11. local government is successful across the whole region
  12. there is an understanding of the diversity of communities of interest with respect to local governance
  13. there is strong community support for any change.