An upcoming prosecution between two Hawke's Bay authorities has been labelled a disaster for ratepayers, as they will be funding both the prosecution and defence.
In one of the rare instances of council charging council, last week the Hawke's Bay Regional Council (HBRC) laid two charges against the Hastings District Council for the unlawful taking of water.
It follows the regional council's a investigation into the contamination of Havelock North's water in August.
Campylobactor in the suburb's water supply caused about 5200 people to become ill.
The regional council found evidence of a breach of the maintenance conditions of a resource consent for the Brookvale Rd bores.
Residents have voiced their frustration that funding for this court action will be coming from their pockets.
Regional Council chairman Rex Graham said this court action had stuck ratepayers between the two authorities.
"It's a travesty that two councils funded by the same ratepayers are at each other's throats," he said. "Having said that, the Regional Council has some statutory duties they can't avoid.
"That's what we've got to do, and the ratepayers are stuck in the middle of it.
"That's the tragedy.
Although the council was abiding by the law, he said the timing of the prosecution was not good.
The district council will appear at Hastings District Court on November 28 - the same day as the second hearing for the Government Inquiry into the contamination commences.
Although New Zealand Taxpayers Union executive director Jordan Williams said the court action was a "disaster from a ratepayer's perspective" a waste of money, he did not blame HBRC for "enforcing the law".
"In principal, although it is a waste of money we shouldn't be blaming that on the Regional Council, they're doing what they should be doing which is enforcing the law," he said.
"The blame lies squarely at the feet of those officials at Hastings District Council which appear to have breached the resource consent."
Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule said although the council had failed in their responsibility to deliver safe drinking water on this occasion, "we don't know where the blame lies just yet".
"We're responsible for the bores that supply the water, but not responsible for the aquifer."
Mr Yule said he understood the regional council had a role, but found it "a bit unfortunate that they've begun this now."
The district council are looking to see whether some of its legal costs could be covered through legal insurance.
Mr Yule said this "could well" cover the majority of the cost, but could not guarantee anything just yet.
Mr Williams said as well as Hastings ratepayers, residents of Central Hawke's Bay could also be worried about this development.
There had been a number of breaches of resource consent conditions from the Central Hawke's Bay District Council's wastewater treatment plants, he said, yet the regional council had never enforced this.
Earlier this year it was reported HBRC was reviewing the Waipukurau and Waipawa wastewater treatment plants, and could lay charges if CHBDC continued to breach its resource consents.
"If this is finally the regional council enforcing its own rules then it's probably not just Hastings ratepayers that will be in the gun, it may well be CHB down the line," he said.
"Enforcing the law . . . very rarely is that a waste of money."
In May 2006 the District Council was taken to the Environment Court by HBRC after one of its pumping stations spewed sewage into the Karamu Stream. The district council pleaded guilty and was convicted and discharged with no penalty.
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