A group of Tokomaru and Ōpiki residents pushing for a boundary change adjustment to leave Horowhenua and align with Palmerston North have been dealt a major blow.
Horowhenua District Council and Palmerston North City Council lodged submissions against the boundary change proposal with the Local Government Commission during the week.
Neither council wants part of it.
In 2018, a group calling itself the Tokopiki Boundary Change Group sent an application to the Local Government Commission requesting the boundary realignment. It collected 307 signatures to support the proposal.
In December last year the commission agreed to assess the application and consider its impacts after a series of public meetings. Submissions closed this week.
The applicant wanted the township of Tokomaru, Ōpiki and the surrounding areas that formed part of the Miranui ward of Horowhenua District to become part of Palmerston North City.
A summary of the proposal said the group felt they did not belong in Horowhenua and would be better served by Palmerston North City Council.
"Our community of interest is with Palmerston North. As adjacent communities with a shared history we abut Palmerston North and to all intents and purposes do all our business there," it said.
The group believed council services would be delivered more efficiently and result in an overall reduction in their own rates, especially for farmers.
"Loss of rates revenue from Ōpiki and Tokomaru should not, as far as we can tell, be sufficient to cause Horowhenua severe damage, if indeed any at all. It would in any event, simply require Horowhenua to cut its coat according to its cloth," it said.
It proposed a new boundary running from the Manawatu River, and along Okuku and Kingston Rds to the Tararua Ranges.
A move would transfer 1400 residents and 500 houses from the Horowhenua boundary to Palmerston North - 170 houses in Tokomaru and 330 in rural Ōpiki.
In its submission, Palmerston North City Council said it did not support the boundary change. It was not confident it could do the job any better than Horowhenua District Council and questioned the benefits of a change.
"There is no evidence to suggest that Palmerston North City Council could better reflect the interests of the Tokomaru and Ōpiki communities, nor, as a result, promote the wellbeing of those communities better than Horowhenua District Council," it said.
"While the residents of Tokomaru and Ōpiki frequent Palmerston North for education, employment and leisure activities, their continued access to services and facilities does not necessitate a boundary change."
The submission highlighted uncertainty about infrastructure liability and the effect it would have on rates. It would be unable to accurately forecast what Tokomaru and Ōpiki rates might be without review.
"Palmerston North City Council cannot clearly ascertain the costs associated with a change...it is our expectation that there exists an infrastructure deficit which will need initial investment and ongoing operational expense."
"Such a liability cost would need to be funded ... a rating structure would have to be considered to fund a programme of investment. In the meantime, there would be an impact on productivity in the transition period."
The submission also said comparing or forecasting any supposed rate reduction was futile.
"It should not be assumed ... the impact on ratepayers in the change area is yet to be determined," it said.
Taking over asset management, bylaw applications, reconsideration of District Plans, asset condition assessments and representation reviews could come at a cost to existing ratepayers.
"Current ratepayers who perceive a cost to themselves are unlikely to be strongly in support of the change when the city is already facing cost pressures," it said.
"In turn this brings into question the likelihood of cohesion of the new population into the city community fabric."
While a boundary change would see its land area increase 38 per cent, "it is certain that Palmerston North City Council does not require the area for growth and strategic planning purposes".
Past experience had a bearing on the submission. A similar situation in 2012 saw Longburn and Bunnythorpe areas move within city limits.
"Council has worked hard in these more-rural villages, yet it has taken time to reach the levels of service that meet the expectations of residents without unduly impacting ratepayers," it said.
"The infrastructure investment needed was not fully calculated at the time of change. The experience had left council less open to this proposal."
In its submission, Horowhenua District Council refuted claims that the Tokomaru and Ōpiki communities had been treated as "backwaters".
It had recently upgraded the Tokomaru water supply and had significant spending on infrastructure and roading waiting in the wings.
Horowhenua Mayor Bernie Wanden told a LGNZ public meeting last year that at no time have residents of Tokomaru or Ōpiki been deprived of core services and significant investment had been planned.
"We do not play favourites," he said.
"There is no appetite on our part to proceed any further with this proposal. It will waste money and resource that both districts can ill afford to waste in the present climate of local government."
"This is a distraction neither council need or want."
Meanwhile, a change would see Horowhenua down $1,771,000 in rating revenue from its total rating income of $41,454,000. Based on average values and current formula, the move would see residential rates drop by $16 and rural rates increase by $1803.
Horowhenua would lose 4 per cent of its population and 14 per cent of its land area. Palmerston North would increase in size by 38 per cent and have a population increase of 1.6 per cent.
A move would raise the issue of representation within HDC. There were four present ward areas - Kere Kere (two), Levin (five), Waiopehu (two) and Miranui (one).
Ōpiki and Tokomaru, along with Shannon, were represented at HDC as part of the Miranui Ward with a population of 3480.
A boundary change would almost halve that number, leaving Miranui representing less than 5 per cent of the district's population, but still represented by one of 10 councillors.
The commission would also consider impacts of a boundary change on iwi and hapū and their rohe. A change to local authority administration in the area had the potential to affect iwi relationships with their respective local authorities.
A final decision was expected mid-May.