Any financial benefits in changing the management of water services throughout New Zealand are unlikely to have a long-term significant impact in Waipā, district councillors have been told.
A Service Delivery workshop was held on Tuesday to prepare councillors to make a submission to Local Government New Zealand on what has become known as the Three Waters Reform.
The government has proposed transferring all council-owned water assets to four statutory and publicly owned water services entities to provide safe, reliable and efficient water services.
The proposal would involve all three waters – drinking, waste and storm.
Waipā would be part of a central North Island entity covering 22 councils including four cities – Hamilton, Tauranga, Whanganui and New Plymouth.
A professional 10-member board selected by an independent selection panel of four members would be appointed by a representative group of 10–12 members, 50 per cent representing the councils and 50 per cent representing iwi interests.
Handing over ownership to that entity also meant losing control at a governance level, said Cambridge councillor Mike Pettit.
“If we’re not happy with the governance structure, who do the people of Waipā have to go to hold them to account?”
Waipā’s water assets are valued at $486 million with $108m worth of debt.
Under the government proposal, Waipā would get $21 million from a $2 billion funding package.
Waipā is one of the highest performing councils when it comes to how it has invested in its infrastructure and stacks up well against other councils on how it delivers its water services.
Graphics shown to councillors at the workshop by finance team member Deborah Fredricks showed water services makes up a large part of Waipā’s debt.
The lump sum from government would reduce the loans and give Waipā additional debt capacity for other projects.
That additional debt capacity and savings were not as compelling as what Waipā had been led to believe, said Kakepuku councillor Susan O’Regan.
She said the model flew in the concept of traditional local authority ownership.
“I’m not comfortable with the Three Waters proposal primarily because of my belligerent legal training.”
Te Awamutu councillor Andrew Brown said he was still soaking in the information and considering his input.
“The aspects about ownership and control, we’re way overstating their importance. What is important is what is delivered.”
Pirongia councillor Clare St Pierre says taking water services away from councils would change the way they do business.
But it was important to understand what those economies of scope were, she said.
Mayor Jim Mylchreest confirmed he was against the Three Waters proposal because it took away the ability of communities to have a say and influence decisions that impacted on their daily lives.
“I’m a firm believer of localism, local decisions being made for local people.
“It’s another step for centralisation and bureaucratic control.”
Staff will prepare a report for the council to consider at its September 28 meeting. A submission must be with Local Government New Zealand by the end of the month.