Statement from the Mayor
You may be aware that the Government is proposing some significant changes to how Three Waters (drinking water, wastewater and stormwater) are managed in New Zealand.
The proposal for change is that four new entities are set up covering the whole of the country, and these entities take over the management of the three waters infrastructure currently managed by Councils.
For the Taupō District, this would mean that our assets (and debt) would be taken over by a new entity that would include all of the Waikato Region (including Hamilton), Bay of Plenty Region (including Tauranga and Whakatane), Taranaki, and parts of Ruapehu, Whanganui and Rangatikei Districts.
The Government believes that they have established a ‘case for change’ based on the financial requirements over the next thirty years to upgrade and manage our infrastructure to meet increasing standards and ageing infrastructure.
One thing that I fully agree with the Government on is that everyone in New Zealand should be able to expect clean, safe drinking water, and a healthy environment. This has always been central to the way that the Taupō District Council has invested in our assets, and will continue to be the key driver of all future investment decisions.
I do, however, have some unanswered questions about the Governments proposals, such as;
- How will the Governance of the new entities be set up to ensure that Taupō District retains its voice over its assets, and that local priorities and development patterns are provided for across the large areas?
- Will our ratepayers really be better off financially as a result of this proposal?
- What will the impact of the change be on the Council organisation that remains after the change, and what will local government look like in the future?
- Is bigger actually better, and are the efficiency assumptions made by Government realistic?
- How can the three waters assets be separated from our other assets (for example the gullies we all use for recreation are often also our stormwater reserves)?
The Government has given us the months of August and September to consider all of the information and implications of this proposal. There is a lot of detailed information to go through, and to come to a conclusion on. Your Councillors and I will be working through this information carefully over the coming weeks, and I will share our thinking as it develops.
To date, the Government has made it clear that councils could decide if they wished to ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’ of these reforms. I fear that they are beginning to change their mind about this and are starting to talk about it potentially being mandatory. I would see that as a totally unconstitutional decision. The assets that they are talking about have been paid for by communities, not by Government, and as such it must be a voluntary thing. I will certainly resist any move towards compulsion.
To that end, I believe that regardless of anything else, the Government must give councils the ability to consult with our communities before we make a decision on whether we support these reforms and ‘opt in’, or not.
I am aware of other Mayors calling for a referendum on the matter, and I support that call. These are important decisions, and I believe that you, as the owner of the assets, must have the ability to have your say about what the future looks like. To me, that is the bottom line.
Taupō District Mayor David Trewavas.