'Nervousness' ahead of local body elections

By Alexandra Newlove

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John Robertson
John Robertson

The political climate in Kaipara is one of nervousness ahead of this year's local body elections, according to the district's current and former leaders.

Chairman of the commissioners currently in charge of Kaipara District Council John Robertson said residents had come through a period of "hostility and anger" towards the council, after commissioners took charge in 2012 following the botched Mangawhai Community Wastewater Scheme, which led to spiralling debt.

Kaipara would return to full democracy on October 8 this year, with the election of eight councillors and a mayor.

"Some people are expressing anxiousness to me," Mr Robertson said of the elections. "Those concerns will go away as people put up their hand to stand. I'm responding to people in the community by saying, 'We must return to an elected council.' People need to start thinking seriously about whether they know people with some governance and community experience, and approaching them to put their hand up."

Former Kaipara deputy mayor Richard Bull said: "I know there's a bit of nervousness about which candidates will be stepping forward. Nearer the time, I'm sure it will become clearer."

He said the events leading up to the dissolution of the elected council in 2012 had shown "local authorities aren't infallible".

"Sometimes they lose the grip of what they've meant to do," he said, adding he thought the commissioners had done a "marvellous" job during their tenure.

Mr Robertson said recruiting a new chief executive for the council, which was under way, was among the top priorities before the election.

Current KDC debt sat at $75 million and was decreasing by about $1 million a year. Rates rises were in keeping with inflation and were expected to remain lower-than-average compared with other councils over the next 10 years, he said.

"Financially the council is in good shape ... We have high debt but not too out of line with a lot of councils in New Zealand," Mr Robertson said.

Next came wrapping up KDC's numerous legal wrangles, including court action against the Auditor-General and an Employment Relations Authority process involving former chief executive Jack McKerchar. KDC was back in the High Court in May battling about 10 members of the Mangawhai Residents and Ratepayers Association who have been refusing to pay their rates.

- Northern Advocate

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