Councils unified in vote

By staff reporters

In what has been called an historic milestone, Wairarapa councils have agreed to support the move to a single Wairarapa unitary authority - though some councillors weren't entirely convinced.

Wairarapa councils made a decision about whether or not to endorse the 11 recommendations put to them by the Wairarapa Governance Review working party in simultaneous meetings on Friday.

The working party, made up of Wairarapa council representatives, had already presented their vision to a forum of councillors from the wider Wellington region earlier in the week.

All three councils passed the recommendations, which propose a singe unitary authority for Wairarapa, outline its structure, and recommend it goes out to the public for consultation.

Seven Masterton District councillors voted to approve the recommendations, while councillors Chris Peterson and Doug Bracewell abstained from voting.

Mr Peterson did not support the preferred option, but said he supported the public consultation, and Mr Bracewell believed the status quo was still an option.

Councillor and working party chair Lyn Patterson said it was unprecedented to have three district councils working so closely together. She said it was great to see councils making progress and the local government reforms were expected to be passed in Parliament.

"For me, central government are going to do what they are going to do. All we can do is submit as we have done ... I was not prepared to sit back and let somebody in Wellington decide what was best for us."

Mayor Garry Daniell said the decision was a "crucial point" for local governance.

Councillors Gary Caffell and David Holmes did not attend the meeting.

Carterton District councillors also voted in support of the recommendations.

Carterton Mayor Ron Mark, a member of the working party, described the council vote during a special meeting at the Holloway St council chambers as an "historic milestone" for the town that opened the door to outlining the draft report to ratepayers.

The council voted on each of the 11 recommendations and each was passed unanimously.

Amendments were sought and passed on several of the recommendations, including the insertion of the word "hapu" at the bidding of Mr Mark in a clause regarding consultation with Maori. Councillor Barbara Durbin questioned a number of the recommendations regarding inclusion of Maori and comprehensive consultation with ratepayers.

South Wairarapa District councillors acknowledged there would be some challenges with the proposed model, but unanimously agreed on the recommendations.

"Everyone is worried about finances," said councillor Max Stevens. "But at the end of the day it's about self-determination and Wairarapa having good representation going forward. It's very important, more important than having a small increase in rates."

South Wairarapa Mayor Adrienne Staples assured councillors that supporting the recommendations was only supporting consultation at this stage - a proposal would still need to be approved by the Local Government Commission.

"The Local Government Commission investigate it and look at whether it's good local government, good representation and fiscally responsible. They're not going to let it happen if we're faced with a bunch of expenses and projects the community can't afford."

Mrs Staples said Wairarapa and Wellington were very different in economic terms, and expressed concern that a super city model incorporating both would see Wairarapa miss out.

She said it would be important if the Wairarapa unitary authority went ahead to work cooperatively with other councils: "No one is suggesting that we close the gates at the top of the hill and make the sign of the cross."

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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