Editorial: Oppatt's warning must be heeded

By Kim Gillespie

9 comments


It is important to note the responses of our region's leaders regarding the possibility of a Bay of Plenty "super council".

The issue was raised by former Rotorua district councillor and current Bay of Plenty regional councillor Neil Oppatt, who earlier this week warned of the potential for hundreds of job losses and the loss of local identity should there be an amalgamation.

The warning was prompted by recent and ongoing changes to the Local Government Act and an upcoming region-wide conference in Tauranga entitled Rethinking Local Government in the Bay of Plenty. A unitary authority could take in the Rotorua, Tauranga, Western Bay, Whakatane, Kawerau and Opotiki councils as well as the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

The mayors of Rotorua and Tauranga have denied there has been any formal talk about amalgamation, with Tauranga's Stuart Crosby saying the current model works very well.

But he also said his council was adopting a "wait and see" brief to see what the act will bring about.

One thing the act is expected to bring about is "greater financial discipline in the local government sector" and concerns about rising rates and council debt are expected to be met.

As Mr Oppatt points out, under the new act, anyone, any individual or local authority, will be able to apply for a local government reorganisation, so long as they can show there is community support; identify the rationale for change; and explain how the proposed option promotes good local government.

And financial prudence is sure to play a big part in any rationale for change. It's not too long a bow to draw to imagine the possibilities, as Mr Oppatt has done.

If money could be saved by amalgamation(s) - our region's councils have a duty to the Government and ratepayers to consider the options.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman John Cronin said: "It is our responsibility to make sure we look at all the alternatives for ratepayers."

Community support may not be an issue, should a larger local authority or two propose unification. But I can't imagine Rotorua or Whakatane ratepayers backing a Tauranga-led (for example) super council.

There are probably still a few people stewing over losing the regional council, rugby and netball matches, or on a lighter note even the prime spot in the phone book.

It may be early days but this month's conference in Tauranga could easily be seen as the first step. It even includes a session on "What the Bay can learn from Auckland's experience".

It's clear there have been no official conversations about a super council between the region's powers that be, but that does not mean we shouldn't heed Mr Oppatt's advice and watch the situation very closely.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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