A petition aimed at overturning a decision to establish a Māori ward in Tauranga has gained the numbers it needs.
A referendum expected to cost ratepayers $220,000 is now expected to be held.
In August, Tauranga City Council voted 6-4 to establish a Māori ward before the next council election in 2022.
The petition sought to collect the support of 5 per cent of the 94,702 people on Tauranga's 2019 electoral roll to force a binding referendum on the issue, with the potential to overturn the council's decision.
The petition was organised by a group of Tauranga residents who described themselves as "concerned citizens" and began collecting signatures in October.
Electoral returning officer Warwick Lampp confirmed today the petition had now gained enough valid signatures to prompt the poll. A total of 6282 signatures were checked.
Lampp said the petition needed to gain 4743 signatures from Tauranga residents.
The process of working on the referendum with the council will now begin, with the poll potentially reaching residents by mid-February at the earliest. The referendum would need to be completed by May 21 at the latest, Lampp said.
The estimated cost for a standalone poll is about $220,000.
Ken Evans, one of the petition organisers, said the result was "great news" for democracy.
Evans visited 200 businesses in his efforts to gain signatures against the decision. He was one of 20 in the group of petition organisers, he said.
"It's been a very interesting exercise. We had a wonderful response from the community wherever we've gone.
"Perhaps the biggest thing is that I was absolutely amazed at how few people knew about the issue."
Those Tauranga elected members who voted in favour of a Māori ward in that August meeting were now-former-mayor Tenby Powell, then-deputy mayor Tina Salisbury, former councillors Jako Abrie and Heidi Hughes plus Bill Grainger and Larry Baldock. Voting against were councillors John Robson, Andrew Hollis, Steve Morris and Kelvin Clout. Dawn Kiddie abstained.
In November, the issue resurfaced in chambers when the council voted against a proposal to hold a referendum on Māori wards, rates-funded kerbside waste collection and STV voting.
That same month, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said she planned to overturn legislation allowing council decisions to be reversed by binding referendum, prompted by a petition of at least 5 per cent of voters. No other council ward is decided on in this way.
In 2017, Green MP Marama Davidson presented a bill to abolish the legislation, but this fell over when National, Act and New Zealand First voted against it.
An announcement on Mahuta's plans is expected within the next few weeks.
Māori wards supporter Buddy Mikaere said the petition and subsequent referendum was, in his view, an "unreasonable waste of money".
"Especially, when you think the city is already in financial strife, as shown by the current debate about increased rates," he said.
The petition's numbers were disappointing for Mikaere but "it doesn't mean it's home and hosed yet", he said.
"I'm pretty confident that before too long the legislation behind it will be revoked. Are we really going to waste all of that money on a referendum that might not happen?"
Mikaere said he believed the petition's numbers, resulting in the rates-funded referendum, was a reflection of Tauranga's "conservative" demographic. It was ironic this demographic, in his view, also reflected much of the staunch opposition to rate increases, Mikaere said.
Phil Green, chairman of Grace Rd and Avenues Neighbourhood Residents' Association, said the referendum could well be worth it despite the cost.
"I'm a great believer that everyone should have their say no matter where they are in hierarchy or social status," he said.
"I totally agree that we need this discussion. We need both sides, people sitting around the table and it's got to be a round table - there's no head, everyone's equal."
Green said the city needed stability.
Council manager of democracy services Coral Hair confirmed a poll was now required to be held on whether a Māori ward is to be established for the 2022 and 2025 local elections.
In 2017, Western Bay of Plenty District Council voted 9-3 for Māori wards but a petition that prompted a $70,000 binding poll saw the vote thrown out.