Rotorua says no to super council

By Matthew Martin of The Daily Post -
Neil Oppatt believes Rotorua must take care to avoid becoming a part of a Bay of Plenty council. Photo / The Daily Post
Neil Oppatt believes Rotorua must take care to avoid becoming a part of a Bay of Plenty council. Photo / The Daily Post

Rotorua is in danger of losing its identity, mayor and hundreds of jobs if talk of a new Bay of Plenty "Super Council" becomes a reality, A Bay of Plenty regional councillor warns.

"If Rotorua is not careful we will become part of a Bay of Plenty unitary council, or super council, similar to the Auckland set-up," said regional councillor Neil Oppatt.

"I could see at least 200 jobs lost at the district council because we won't need the Rotorua District Council anymore."

But the mayors of Rotorua and Tauranga have dismissed the idea, saying no formal talks have occurred between any of the region's councils about any proposal to unify the Bay of Plenty.

Mr Oppatt was a Rotorua district councillor for 15 years and has spent the past eight years serving as a Bay of Plenty regional councillor representing Rotorua.

He pointed to an upcoming one-day conference in Tauranga - sponsored by the regional council and Tauranga Chamber of Commerce - on February 1, called "Rethinking Local Government in the Bay of Plenty".

Mr Oppatt said talk of a Bay of Plenty "super council" had been around for years but since the Government passed the Local Government Act 2002 and Amendment Act 2012 in December it would be a lot easier to unify local authorities if a strong case was made to do so.

To date, only the Far North District Council has lodged a reorganisation application for it to become a unitary authority.

The Daily Post understands councils in Wellington and the Hawkes Bay are in the process of making similar applications.

"Whether we like it or not, we would have no mayor, no council, rates would go up and Rotorua would lose control of its own future to a Tauranga-based unitary authority.

"The danger is anyone can make an application, any individual or local authority ... we would end up a minnow in a very large council."

An amalgamation would cover the regional council, Tauranga City, Western Bay, Rotorua, Kawerau, Whakatane and Opotiki, he said.

Rotorua residents should think seriously about the future of local government before it was too late.

However, Rotorua Mayor Kevin Winters was quick to quell any talk of a super-council.

He was aware of the conference but believed it would be used only to inform people how the new legislation would impact on the region and the lessons learned in Auckland.

"They will be speaking very generally ... I would be surprised if any details of a super council would be discussed."

The region's mayors had a "no surprises" clause in place under the Bay of Plenty Triennial Agreement - which is signed by all the region's mayors - and at their latest meeting on November 29 no discussions were held regarding a unitary authority for the Bay, he said.

"We are sitting back and watching to see how Auckland shakes down ... we are in no hurry.

Regional council chairman John Cronin said the conference was organised to inform the community about the changes in legislation and what options were available in the future. "If we can do it better then we owe it to our ratepayers to discuss any options available. Some of our operations could be better managed locally and at a cheaper cost. It is our responsibility to make sure we look at all the alternatives for ratepayers."

Mr Cronin said he could not see the region rushing into anything.

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said there had been no discussion, at any level, regarding a unitary authority.

"I've seen proposals come and go ... but all have failed due to representation issues," he said.

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