Waihi Beach and Maketu residents have lost the first round of the battle to retain their electoral independence on the Western Bay of Plenty District Council.
The council yesterday decided to reduce the number of electoral wards from five to three by merging Maketu Ward into a new Te Puke-focused Eastern Ward and Waihi Beach into a new Katikati-focused Western Ward.
Kaimai Ward remains unchanged except to be renamed the Central Ward.
The vote was won 8-4, with councillors Anne Gilmer, Kevin Marsh, Norm Mayo and Paul Thomas opposed.
Councillor Don Thwaites (Kaimai) was on leave of absence.
Yesterday's decision was likely to result in appeals to the final arbiter of representation, the Local Government Commission.
In the other major decision, the council dropped its controversial recommendation to axe the number of councillors from 12 to eight.
After nearly a day and a half of public submissions on its proposed electoral reforms, the council opted to have an 11-member council - dropping one representative.
The lost seat was at the expense of the low-growth eastern end of the district based on Te Puke. The Maketu and Te Puke wards are currently represented by a total of five councillors.
The vote on the size of the council was won 8-4, with councillors Maureen Burgess, Kevin Marsh, Mike Pittar and Paul Thomas opposed.
Strong community opposition to three wards and a much smaller eight-member council emerged from the public response to the council's representation review. Waihi Beach and Maketu residents feared their distinct communities of interest would lose their voice to the greater voting strength in the population strongholds of Te Puke and Katikati.
The council decided 8-3 to stick with the current structure of five community boards. The boards, which cost ratepayers $600,000 a year, were Maketu, Te Puke, Omokoroa, Katikati and Waihi Beach.
The council opted to strengthen its appointees on each board by adding a second councillor.
Mayor Ross Paterson said the main driver behind the council's decision to have 11 councillors instead of 12 was because it resulted in fairer representation.
If numbers of the Eastern Ward had been boosted to four councillors, the area would have been over-represented.
Cr Gilmer (Waihi Beach) said she struggled with the beach becoming part of the Katikati.
But Cr Garry Webber (Kaimai) said the communities of interest were pretty well developed, with the focus on Te Puke and Katikati for the eastern and western sides of the district, whereas Tauranga was where a lot of the Kaimai Ward residents went.
"The Kaimai Ward was basically based on Tauranga because we do not have the assets," he said.
Cr Marsh highlighted how the Arawa Trust was planning a 350-section development at Maketu, saying Maketu had different people and different needs.
"I know where this will end up," he said in a strong hint that the decision would be appealed to the Local Government Commission if the council went with the Eastern Ward. "Maori people know what they want, and that is not going to change."