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Next steps for three waters services

2021 09 28C 3 waters

The next steps around the government’s announcement to legislate to mandate local councils to hand over their three waters assets to multi-regional entities were discussed by Wairoa District Councillors at an extraordinary meeting this morning. (Tuesday Nov 9)

Mayor Craig Little said the Wairoa District Council will not take the three waters decision lying down. “We have to be in a position where we are ready to go, so elected members from other like minded councils from across the country can fight this together.

At last week’s Infrastructure meeting councillors discussed the need to be able to pivot quickly.

Mr Little said Local Government New Zealand had let Councils down trerribly and now, because of the Heads of Agreement they signed, they can not oppose this mandate. “This is unprecedented that the organasation that is meant to be representing us would just write us off like they have.”

Independent committee member Chris Olsen was also surprised by the government’s decision adding there could be an option under a judicial review, due to lack of good faith. He said the government’s current review of local government also needs to be considered as no decisions should be made in isolation without knowing what else is coming up.

Mr Olsen said Wairoa is in a very strong position with a good infrastructure strategy and very good asset management plans. “We need to package these up and have some form of agreement with the regional entity about delivering what the Wairoa community has actually come up with. That’s our safeguard, making sure what our community is looking for is delivered.”

Despite the Wairoa District Council’s opposition to the government’s recent three waters decision, it remains focussed on providing business as usual services and planning for transitional arrangements.

In a report to Council’s Infrastructure committee, Stephen Heath, Group manager of Community Assets and Services, said the government’s decision is disappointing as all Councils embarked on the three waters reform journey in good faith and believed feedback would be considered and Councils would have a choice to opt in or opt out as the government had promised.

He said Central Government’s move to mandate has ignored the majority of Councils which did not support the reforms proposal and wanted it to pause.

“While the Wairoa District Council has reassured job security for council staff, there is still a feeling of unknown outcomes and some concern. There are six Council staff who deal directly with three waters and under the proposal could eventually transition over to the new entity.”

Mr Heath said a challenge is that three waters staff also work across a lot of other Council related activities providing services, support and advice and it is still unknown where these staff will be located and what level of interaction they will have with the Wairoa District Council.

Chief Executive Officer Kitea Tipuna said while there will be some anxieties around the government’s announcement, the government has confirmed all staff direclty employed by three waters, will have their title, salary, location and position guaranteed and Council will continue to advocate for this.

Chairman of the Infrastructure committee Chaans Tumataroa-Clarke said he finds it interesting the government can make promises around staffing, but can’t tell Councils how three waters is going to work under the new entities.

He also identified the unintended consequences, like the fact Council’s three waters staff support the community centre swimming pool and commercial businesses like Affco, the biggest empoyer in Wairoa, and the impact this will have on local contractors like QRS.

Mr Heath said Council has achieved significant milestones over the last four years and been incredibly proactive in striving for best practice in the three waters space.

“Council’s Long-Term Plan (LTP) three year spend in operational and capital costs for three waters up to 2024 is around $28 million which includes the $11 million stimulus package which has been used to pull five years’ worth of capital projects forward to help reset the bow wave of projects that had been deferred due to financial constraints.

“Council has spent a lot of time and resource developing its LTP. Over the next three years, three waters will need to be stripped out of the organisation, requiring a reversal and review of the LTP, with work needed to start soon, and although this is a significant piece of legislatively required work, costs for this extra piece of work have not been budgeted for by Council.

“Come 2024, Council will have received a further $18 million to help promote a ‘better off and no worse off’ situation when the new entity C is stood up.” Mr Heath described this as another opportunity to reinvest into the wider Wairoa district and consideration and planning for what this fund should be allocated and used for should start soon.”

He said the challenge over the next few years, for the Council and all of New Zealand, is to remain focussed and continue with Business as Usual, begin transition arrangements, staff retention, and capital projects.

 

10 November 2021

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