Civic reform no easy matter

By Gary Caffell

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The drive for local government reform in Wairarapa has become even more confusing over the past week or so.

First we had the Palmer report, which was initially commissioned by the Porirua City Council and the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

In essence it favoured the Masterton, Carterton and South Wairarapa district councils being amalgamated into one entity that would sit one tier below a Greater Wellington Council on which we would have just the one representative, as would Kapiti, Upper Hutt and Porirua. Lower Hutt would have double that number and Central Wellington four and the head honcho would be a Lord Mayor who would be elected at large.

The Palmer report made another couple of interesting observations. It said the amalgamation of the three Wairarapa councils had a "large measure of agreement within Wairarapa" without providing any data to prove that was the case.

And it came out strongly against any Wairarapa area council becoming a unitary authority, saying that would increase Wairarapa rates substantially and $11.5 million would need to be found to carry out the functions presently done by the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

"We doubt the viability of the unitary authority because of limited resources, the lack of qualified staff and the fact that a better alternative is available ..." the Palmer report said.

A couple of days later the three Wairarapa mayors came out with a statement that took an entirely different stand. They didn't fancy the Palmer proposal, saying it would remove local leadership, local say and local decision-making, and said there were only two reform options that were realistic in their opinion, a unitary authority or a Wellington super council. And they had a different figure too for the shortfall which a unitary authority would need to find, putting it at $8.6 million.

The trick now is to decide who is on the right track and, quite frankly, you'd have to say that while both points of views contain some degree of merit it would take an enormous leap of faith to consider either of them anything like a home run.

Confusing is hardly the word for it.

Gary Caffell is a Masterton district councillor.

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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