As Tauranga faces another summer with likely water restrictions, concerns continue to be raised over Government plans to merge 67 councils' water assets into four regional water entities.
Yesterday, Tauranga City Council commissioners heard from residents who called the Three Waters reform proposal an "April Fool's joke" and an "insult", demanding a referendum on the issue.
Chairwoman Anne Tolley said the response from the Tauranga public to the reforms was "pretty negative" but said the council must continue preparing for changes in case the Government made them mandatory.
Tauranga City Council's Strategic, Finance and Risk Committee met on Monday to discuss an update on the proposed reform, which seeks to overhaul the management and service of New Zealand's drinking water, stormwater and wastewater through four different entities.
Tauranga is proposed to be part of Entity B, together with 22 territorial land authorities from the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki and Manawatu regions. A Waikato/Bay of Plenty Three Waters Reform Consortium has since been set up.
Lynne Moore told the council meeting she was "disgusted" with the "one-sided" proposal and demanded a referendum be held.
"If this proposal came across my desk... I would consider this an April Fool's joke because that is what it is - a joke."
Ross Steele, who also spoke in the public forum, said the $48.4 million allocation for Tauranga as part of a $2.5 billion support package for councils was an "absolute insult".
He encouraged the council to opt-out of the Three Waters reform and demanded a binding referendum.
In response, Commissioner Anne Tolley said the pair's comments "really epitomise" concerns in the community.
"We are certainly aware there is a groundswell of worry and concern about what is going to happen."
However, Tolley said the council was not being asked to make a decision but to provide the government with the community's views.
"It is not being proposed by the local government. The Local Government NZ is working alongside the government on developing this reform.
"Our job is to contribute to that."
The community's views were currently "pretty negative" due to a lack of information, she said.
"In fact, even if we were to go to a referendum we haven't got a specific proposal to put in front of the people.
"We can't answer all of the questions that are being asked of us by the ratepayers who own the assets.
"The best we can do is to gather all of the information and to work hard to ensure the government is aware of the consequences of that reform."
Tolley said it was prudent for the council to prepare "good input" to the government "because it is possible the government will make it mandatory".
"At the moment it is voluntary."
Tolley reiterated the ownership of the assets remained with the ratepayers and said there legally would be formal consultation if it was their decision to make.
Tauranga City Council general manager of infrastructure Nic Johansson said the Three Waters reform was "unfortunately not very well understood not just here but across the country".
"It is not very well explained."
Johansson said the council had so far received about 200 "pieces of feedback" online.
He said the city's water was "running on absolute capacity" and the council was already considering water supply restrictions over summer.
"In the wastewater space, we are running at absolute capacity.
"We are looking at a very steep task to stay ahead of the curve in terms of what we need in that regard."
Commissioners voted to receive the Three Waters Reform Programme Update report and recommended the council continue to support its involvement in collaborative workstreams with other local authorities as proposed by the Department of Internal Affairs.
A project team was also being established internally to undertake ongoing work related to the reform.
A full report will be presented to the council on information related to the Three Waters reform along with initial Rangapū and community feedback on October 4.