Horowhenua District Council has sent a strong message to the Government that it does not support a Three Waters reform plan based on current information.
Council met this week to outline its position on the Government's controversial plan for the future management of New Zealand's water, sewage and stormwater networks.
The Government proposal would result in HDC handing over control of assets worth half a billion dollars to a new entity with no clear policy on delivery.
HDC staff were commended for preparing a report that formed the basis of the council's official response, which was discussed at length and endorsed by councillors at an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday night.
Councillor Sam Jennings said the wording didn't go far enough and was scathing of the Government's approach, calling it "a failure of epic proportions".
He had been swamped by constituents against the Three Waters proposal, which he said "challenge our sense of democracy, localism and fundamental rights".
"In my two years on council, no other issue had produced more contact with me ... the sentiment is overwhelmingly clear," he said.
"The Government needs to read the room, listen to the feedback, reset, and give the sector time to put forward other credible and sensible options to achieve their broader objectives."
"This council must be brave, bold and blunt in its response to government and say no. You must stop at this point and reconsider this attempt to erode local democracy."
"In my view, this government is acting as if it's taking that electoral mandate to become the master that rules us all."
"We have a government that is fixated on going down a deep centralisation path ... I am very concerned about this and I believe our communities should be too."
Jennings said the proposal was suggesting every council couldn't be trusted to do the job.
"They are saying we know what is best for you. We don't need your opinion. We don't value your collective planning and input, and we can manage your assets better than you can."
"Ultimately, I am not against change, but I am not persuaded that the scale, means and model of change is fit for purpose, nor in the best interests of the community ..."
"There is still time to reset and reimagine what change looks like and to explore what best suits our future needs."
Mayor Bernie Wanden said it was hard not to support a proposal aiming to bring improved water quality and investment in service, "but how we get there is a totally different debate".
"It has turned into an ideological and political debate rather than focusing on the positive outcomes that could eventually result," he said.
"There is always a chorus to not increase debt and rates. These reforms could make a difference in that space."
"There is a vacuum that has been created with a lack of information and detail around ownership."
Cr Ross Brannigan said the Government didn't need to take control of council assets to achieve desired outcomes.
"Government don't need to control or own these assets. They can contribute to higher standards by a collaborative model by contributing funding to councils to meet these standards," he said.
Cr Piri-Hira Tukapua said she wanted to address the "tension in the room" and that was the Government representation model for the Three Waters entity to have governance of 50 per cent Māori.
Tukapua said at no stage had local iwi been consulted.
"That had certainly not happened here in the Horowhenua. I whakapapa to both Raukawa and Muaūpoko and I tell you right now there has been none. They don't know if they are part of this proposal or how they feed into this," she said.
Tukapua highlighted the investment council had made in recent years.
"We have made significant leaps and bounds in taking wastewater out of rivers. We have done the hard yards," she said.
"Is this reform going to make Horowhenua better off? Deep down I say no. There are holes everywhere. Privatisation? Prioritisation? It is safer in the hands of councils for future generations?"
Cr Wayne Bishop said it was "spooky council has been pushed into this corner" and took issue with the suggestion that the council wasn't committed to delivering the same outcomes.
"It's derogatory, to say the least," he said.
Cr David Allan said he supported the Government's intent to provide safe drinking water, and stormwater and wastewater systems, that were efficient and environmentally friendly.
"The problem is the model itself. What they have put on the table is I think it is deeply flawed," he said.
Allan said the Government was also about to review the Resource Management Act and the future of local government.
"We have this Three Waters initiative sitting god knows where in the middle of the whole mix ... we need to line up the ducks and the future of local government surely should be the first off the block."
"New Zealanders will not die from water poisoning if we pause and get the future of local government sorted out before we unpack those other issues."
He said there was also concern that a Three Waters entity could be privatised by future governments, and this needed to be addressed
Deputy Mayor Jo Mason said the council had a worksheet to show the investment it had made to services, and it was insulting to suggest successive councils had been negligent.
Meanwhile, Horowhenua District Residents and Ratepayers Association spoke out in support of the reforms, citing significant investment was needed to address water quality and believed it too big a job for councils.
In a press release, the association said for 50 years the pollution of waterways had only worsened, largely due to what it claimed was industry pollution not properly monitored. Water supply issues in summer and during winter flood events were other key concerns.
It claimed Horowhenua rivers were among the most polluted in New Zealand, and that the Manawatū River was the "dirtiest in the Southern Hemisphere".
The association has a public meeting planned for Sunday at 2pm at the Freemasons Centre in Parker Ave to further discuss the issues.