First step to Hawke's Bay council merger?

By LAWRENCE GULLERY

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The Hastings District Council is making the first move towards amalgamation by voting to reduce councillor numbers, anticipating a merged Hawke's Bay entity within five years.

The council spent three hours debating whether to keep the status quo of 14 councillors and the mayor before coming to a seven-to-five vote in favour of having nine councillors, the mayor and adding five community boards.

The move is being seen as a step towards a potential amalgamation of councils in Hawke's Bay and has been labelled "presumptuous" and one which might not reflect what people want from their local government politicians.

Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott said she was surprised to hear the Hastings District Council had voted to reduce its councillor numbers, with a view towards preparing for amalgamation.

"I think that is a bit presumptuous," the mayor said. "I think like any good council they should make a decision on the needs of their community, their citizens and their residents."

Regional council chairman Fenton Wilson said Hastings' move to pre-empt a merger did not make a lot of sense.

"The reality is we make decisions for our community as they live today and that's what we have done," he said.

"I don't follow the logic about what things might look like in the future. People tell us what they want today and we give it to them."

The new model voted on by the Hastings District Council will be sent to the Local Government Commission for review. People have a chance to appeal it and the final version would be used to elect a new Hastings council at next year's election.

The change was led by Hastings Deputy Mayor Cynthia Bowers, who surrendered her voting rights as a councillor to present as a formal submitter at yesterday's meeting.

"This is about looking to the future and how things might change for our district. My view is that [amalgamation] will happen within the next five years.

"You only have to look at the work being done now on things like the prosperity study and the local government reforms. That leads me to believe that things will have to change and we will have to change with it.

"We need to think about how we might position the community best and we know that we won't be able to have 14 councillors if we amalgamate with other councils like Napier."

The council could not afford to bury its head in the sand and hope that the status quo would remain forever, as other councils looked to be following, Ms Bowers suggested.

She had earlier in the day presented to the Hawke's Bay Regional Council and was disappointed it had voted for the status quo, ignoring possible changes in the future.

Those opposed to the change included Flaxmere councillors Henare O'Keefe and Jacoby Poulain because under the new model there would be only one councillor for their suburb, but a community board would be added.

The council spent the first hour of the meeting trying to decide whether the Flaxmere councillors could vote after Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said there was a conflict of interest.

"I have been made aware in the last couple of hours that Cr Poulain has been actively seeking people from Flaxmere to provide submissions to this debate.

"In my view that is a conflict of interest. If Cr Poulain is allowed to vote it it could pose a problem because this next goes to the Local Government Commission and I don't want us to be in a position where our decision has been compromised ... and we end up in the High Court."


NEW MODEL:


The public can have a say on the new model by writing submissions to the Local Government Commission.

Nine councillors - Hastings (3); Havelock North (1), Flaxmere (1); Heretaunga ward (1); rural ward (1); two councillors elected at large.

Five community boards - Rural (5 people); Heretaunga Plains (6); Flaxmere (5); Havelock North (5); Hastings (4).

- Hawkes Bay Today

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