Nikki Preston

Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Community boards face the axe

Matamata-Piako mayor Hugh Vercoe. Photo / Janna Dixon
Matamata-Piako mayor Hugh Vercoe. Photo / Janna Dixon

Matamata-Piako District Council proposes to scrap its three community boards for the next election, saying the council is over-governed and they are an unnecessary duplication.

But the Te Aroha, Morrinsville and Matamata community boards believe they fill a vital role and give residents more access to the council.

The district council last week voted 5-4 to support a proposal removing the community boards because ward councillors already represented those areas.

Councillors Carole Greenville, Garry Stanley and Bob McGrail were absent from the meeting.

Under the proposal the council would retain its 11 councillors - four each representing Morrinsville and Matamata and three representing Te Aroha.

A survey of 71 residents found that more than half (58 per cent) were happy with the current system and felt the community boards represented the communities well.

Only 18 per cent felt the district was over-represented with 24 councillors and community board members.

Matamata-Piako Mayor Hugh Vercoe said removing community boards would ensure the council was not over-governed and he felt it would make little difference as the community boards had limited delegated powers.

He said all the geographical areas were served by elected members.

The community boards - which have four members each - had written to the council supporting their continuation and suggesting the boards could do even more if the council delegated them more authority. At present the boards are delegated only to distribute $5000 in community grants to each of their communities.

Matamata Community Board chairman Daryl Anderson said the council had shown "complete disregard" for the initial community feedback showing support for the boards.

"The work the community boards have done in allowing accessibility for local residents is vital. As of right now we provide an accessibility at a very, very low cost for the community who don't want to go through council and feel intimidated by council as such."

Without the boards, residents would have to travel out of town during the day to address the council when now they could attend community board meetings in their own areas at night, he said.

Te Aroha Community Board chairwoman Mary Massey said that although the boards needed to be given more power, she felt they acted as a good stepping stone for the community.

Ms Massey, who has been on the community board for 14 years, was disappointed the whole council was not there to vote.

The proposed change would save the council up to $100,000 a year but Mr Vercoe said it was not about saving money or increasing existing councillors' salaries, which would rise to $23,283.50.

Community board members are paid $4173 a year and chairs are paid $5598 each. Half of the community board members' salaries are paid from the council's total remuneration pool.

When the last review was held in 2006, the number of elected members of the community boards was reduced from six to four because the council was having trouble finding enough people to stand.

The proposal will go out for public consultation between July 25 and August 27.

- NZ Herald

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