The Local Government Commission's review of the structure of local government on the West Coast is a "complete waste of money", says Westland Mayor Bruce Smith.

The commission today called for Coast residents' ideas on how local government could be reorganised in the region.

The commission has been looking at the Coast since 2015, when it received an application from two Coast residents, Peter Salter and Anthea Keenan, seeking the amalgamation of all four Coast councils into one unitary council.

The application was supported by a 500 signature-strong petition. Salter ran for the Ban 1080 party in the 2014 general election.

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Keenan was elected as a Westland District councillor in 2013, but stood down after one year. She also stood unsuccessfully for the Westland mayoralty in last year's election.

In response to the application, the commission met with Coast communities, and in August last year, decided there was "demonstrable" support for change.

Smith said the entire exercise was a "complete waste of money".

"It should never have been started, and in fact I did say to the representatives of Local Government New Zealand: 'I think you should pack your bags and go home.'

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn, who previously spearheaded calls for amalgamation, said he now wanted the outcome to bring cost savings for West Coast ratepayers. Photo / NZPA
Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn, who previously spearheaded calls for amalgamation, said he now wanted the outcome to bring cost savings for West Coast ratepayers. Photo / NZPA

"I want the status quo to remain. I'm totally opposed to any form of amalgamation of any of the councils, but I'm happy to support shared services as long as long as they're shared fairly."

If council jobs were going to disappear from Hokitika, then they needed to be replaced in another way, Mr Smith said.

"If we end up with central processing for, say, planning or transport, and it costs our council two jobs, I want to see two jobs come back. I don't want to see all of the transfer of jobs going to Greymouth."

Centralisation had a "tremendous impact" on the viability of West Coast communities, he said.

"At the end of the day, if the Local Government Commission make the call that there should be some form of amalgamation, it will require a vote of the people, and I'm absolutely confident the people won't have a bar of it.

More shared services

Buller Mayor Garry Howard said the Buller District Council (BDC) was working with the other three councils on its own submission.

The submission would promote "better alignment" between the councils to make working across the region more streamlined for business, he said.

The submission would also suggest developing more shared services for "enhanced and regionally consistent service delivery".

Howard said BDC had always been anxious about the cost and the time the review was taking.

"At the present stage, with what we have got on our work agenda, it is certainly additional work and consideration."

However, it had been well done by the commission, he said.

"Every so often - and I hope it wouldn't occur very often - a review is appropriate to see that it [council's structure] is meeting the requirements of the community."

He encouraged the community to engage with the review process.

Cost savings the bottom line

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn, who has previously spearheaded calls for amalgamation of the Coast councils, said he now wanted the outcome to bring cost savings for West Coast ratepayers.

"Whether it is through the shared services or whether it is through amalgamation, I want savings. I want efficiencies for the ratepayer."

Appetite for change

During the commission's consultation with the community, it identified three "change options" for the Coast.

They are:

● Structural changes such as the amalgamation of certain councils or the alteration of boundaries between councils;

● The transfer of statutory obligations from one council to another, such as responsibility for building control or public health activities;

● Existing councils sharing the delivery of particular services.People interested in submitting a proposal have until March 15, 2017.

Local Government Commissioner Janie Annear said today that once the alternative proposals had been received, the commission would identify the "reasonably practicable options". That could include the original application for amalgamation, she said.

The commission would then choose its preferred option, including keeping the status quo (no change). If the preferred option was for change, it would prepare a draft reorganisation proposal and present it to the West Coast community for consultation.

If the commission decided on "no change", it would end its process there, she said.

"However, at this stage the commission could recommend to the West Coast councils that they consider other forms of change such as more shared services.

"For more information about the application process, go to www.lgc.co.nz
- Westport News