Take time on vital merger decision

By Gary Caffell

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Wairarapa's three district councils have a crucial decision to make.

Do they go full steam ahead with their proposal to merge as a unitary authority or do they take time out to reconsider the full ramifications of such a move.

For me - and I stress this is a personal opinion - the latter would make good sense. Particularly now information has come to hand that suggests the shape of local government reform for the Wellington region, which includes Wairarapa, won't be finalised until after this year's elections.

Many columns have already been written about how our leaders see the unitary authority idea as the be-all in this debate. They have proffered the view time and again that it is either that or be part of a Wellington super city concept, something that obviously holds little appeal in their books.

Problem is that the more the probable costs of a unitary authority has been spotlighted the more its affordability has been questioned.

Farmers and business folk in particular are worried at the impact it could have on their rates bills - and rightly so - and until their concerns are put to rest their opposition is likely to become more vocal by the day.

Perhaps the best way for the councils to arrive at a decision that best suits the majority of ratepayers is to change the composition of the working group, which has been overseeing their reform discussions.

This is not to suggest in any way that this group has been negligent in their duties, for nothing would be further from the truth ,but you have to wonder whether widening their membership to include stakeholder representatives would take them down a different - and more acceptable - track.

You have to wonder, too, whether the option of retaining the status quo should be part of the debate as well. We are constantly being told change MUST happen, but surely if the costs don't stack up favourably against what we have now then central government should be told in no uncertain terms that things should stay as they are ... unless of course they themselves can come up with a better idea!

Gary Caffell is a Masterton district councillor.

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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