Far North voters face their biggest choice since their district council was created in 1989, with 11 candidates vying to become the next mayor.
To help anyone who's still undecided, we asked them one question: What is the biggest issue facing the Far North district, and what would you do to fix it if elected?
Voting closes at noon on Saturday. It's now too late to post your ballot papers but you can drop them off at Far North District Council service centres at Te Ahu in Kaitaia, the John Butler Centre in Kerikeri or the council headquarters on Memorial Dr, Kaikohe, during office hours or on Saturday until noon.
I am of the view that the ratepayers need to regain control of their council, not the council control the ratepayers.
Council core services must come first, ahead of many candidates' visions. To date very little if any debate has been forthcoming.
Somehow we must retain the huge amount of money leaving the Far North each year to benefit others at our expense, depriving our people.
Honesty, accountability, trust, responsibility and respect is the only way forward, by both the people and the council, which means working together for the sake of our children's futures.
Each and every one of us must play our part, as this is our home. Do not think that central government cares about us. Their only agenda is to profit from us while they can, just like the banks and companies taking their profits out of the North to benefit themselves.
We need to take control as we face uncertain times ahead of us with weather changes, population increase, burnt-out land with erosion and raping, rubbish disposal, sewage, fresh water, stormwater, roading, transport, dog control, air and water pollution, land use change and much more to finance before our vision of "must have".
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There is a lot of pain to come to obtain very important gains required, so I do not see where money is coming from for visions, apart from borrowing, increasing debt, meaning higher rates.
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I'd like to see much more unity and cohesion in the Far North, between those in council, and between Māori and non-Māori.
At the moment a lot of potentially productive time and energy is being wasted as some of those in council subvert each other publicly and Māori are still being treated like second-class citizens in things that directly affect them (such as the desecration of our environment with sewage, eco-toxins and other pollutants).
I would propose Unity Projects to harness the true capability of those elected to council. Such things as acknowledging and utilising Te Kara as a unifying symbol for future progress and unity in our region. This beautiful flag, previously the CMS (missionaries flag) was chosen by chiefs (from several options) on the spiritual Waitangi Grounds in 1834 and has always legally been our flag.
You could look on that as an endorsement by those great rangatira of the strong mutual respect and friendships that they were working on with early Europeans at that time, between two peoples from different worlds, as a portent for the future.
Another possibility is petitioning the government to symbolically redesignate Okiato as our capital city. Everything went downhill for us in the Far North when Hobson was seduced by land profiteering opportunities and moved the capital to Auckland.
Such initiatives would help to bind us and harness our true potential as a people, then we can kick-on and work hard to make powerfully positive decisions to future-proof our region and make our place healthy, safe and prosperous for our tamariki and mokopuna.
There are many issues to choose from, and picking "the" most important issue is a difficult question!
I'd say "communication". It is the common denominator in all of the council issues — infrastructure, revenue, etc — and that is how do we engage with our communities, no matter what the issue?
I have always believed that council must be community-led, and that demands that council keep an open dialogue with its ratepayers and residents so that they can tell us what they want and need. What are their priorities, where they live? What do they think of a certain proposal?
The ways and means of communication these days has gone way beyond a coloured glossy flyer with your rates (though we still do that!), to using social media like Facebook to give and receive messages.
Community meetings are also vital — face to face dialogue is always worthwhile and people really feel like they've been heard. We have made good use of these platforms, but I'd like us to do more.
Sometimes statutory timeframes can make a process seem hurried with little opportunity for real engagement. I'd like to see a lot more front-end discussion on whatever the issue is, before going into the formal consultation process.
The predicted low voter turnout is a concern and an indicator that council isn't making an impression on people, perhaps doesn't seem relevant to their lives, and that is something I'd really like to improve on.
Trust. Regaining people's trust in the council is the most important thing.
Way too many meetings have excluded the public. As recently as the past two weeks when a public-excluded meeting was held about extending the chef executive's contract.
Two earlier chef executives have been dispatched with large payouts. Why? How much? We have not been told.
Councillors have tripped off to China. Meeting who and to what end. We have not been told.
People believe that staff have hijacked council. I believe council operates in a zone of secrecy and I want that blown open.
Then, with the support of the public, can we forge ahead with the many opportunities that are in front of us.
The biggest issue facing the Far North District is a council that has become severely disconnected from the people it serves.
The latest Resident Opinion Survey released just last week shows an almost 20 per cent drop in satisfaction levels by our residents, with now less than one in three people satisfied with council's overall performance.
A similar drop has seen faith and trust in council fall to its lowest level ever of 22 per cent.
Scores for reputation, overall quality of services and facilities, rates provide value for money, and financial management also fell significantly as did satisfaction levels across 17 of the 23 service areas measured.
The results clearly show an almost complete systemic failure requiring a radical overhaul of the organisation, review of its leadership and structure, and its key priorities for the next three to six years.
I propose to restore governance by elected members — too long the tail has been wagging the dog. Regular fortnightly council meetings will see an end to last minute papers having to be voted on due to urgency. All elected members will participate in all decisions.
To increase the transparency of council process, all meetings will be recorded (audio and video), along with a greater degree of narrative noted in the minutes to reflect the democratic process in action.
Local community boards will be delegated more powers and resources, putting decision-making closest to those who are most affected.
Please give me a team of fresh new elected members to lead this change.
The biggest issue for the Far North District is the growth that has been over the last three to four years. This is likely to continue.
FNDC has been found wanting in its delivery of services and consents. Also the maintenance and expansion of infrastructure required to cope with the growth.
It won't be a quick fix but as Mayor it would be my number one priority.
(1) Identify and prioritise the problems.
(2) With the governance and executive team, develop solutions and implement them.
The biggest issue I feel we face is our failing infrastructure. In most areas our town water supplies are either poor quality or at maximum capacity. Our sewage systems are lacking with four sewerage systems being pumped into the Hokianga Harbour. Our roads are third-world quality at best.
In Kerikeri the solution to the water issue is relatively simple — we have a huge supply at Lake Manuwai which could be piped to the Waipapa supply line, and the water supply fixed and future-proofed.
Kaitaia desperately needs a new bore. It's been talked about for years and it's time to act. Our smaller communities have poor quality drinking water which can be fixed with decent sand and carbon filtration.
Sewerage: Systems are available that produce 99.8 per cent pure water. The technology is available now so we don't need to reinvent the wheel.
Roads: They are appalling. We can't rely on current contractors and repairs are lucky to last six months. I suggest we go back to basics and form our own road contracting company. It's jobs for local people, and we can control the cost and quality.
The cost: We have to stop wasting money on patch-ups and actually fix the issues. In the long term this will save us a fortune. This will mean borrowing money but at 2-3 per cent it's never been cheaper, so now is the time to act. The ratepayers have paid enough, so we take a longer term approach to debt repayment, including getting tourists to pay their share.
Affordability. The Far North is the biggest district in the North Island, a third of which is DoC land and a third Maori land.
With over 40 communities and less than 40,000 ratepayers, we have some real challenges in meeting our needs, let alone our wants.
Changes to legislation (such as the three waters) only add to the burden. We also have real disparity between the haves and the have nots, all of whom have valid needs and requirements.
There is no easy solution to fixing it. It will require much smarter decisions that are future focused (based on an agreed long term strategy) and community led and a fairer share of the public dollar (local government only gets 12 per cent, the rest is spent by central).
Council has already commenced a full revenue review, which will look at all revenue options, along with some serious conversations around our needs, wants and nice to haves – the key will be in finding a balance.
We must test case and then implement more innovative approaches to the way we deliver infrastructure and services.
As mayor, I will lead this work transparently and inclusively. I will not be afraid to have the brave conversations and will advocate strongly on the district's behalf.
To answer such an ambiguous question, for me? Up to 88 per cent of the 100 per cent issues are all in the big issue basket, in saying that, I believe the word issue is not the word I would use for the question being asked, I would use problem instead of issue. Some problems can be solved and some cannot.
You ask: ''What is the biggest issue (problem) facing the Far North?'' You tell me which is the biggest of the following: Roading, rubbish, rates, water, sewage, housing, unemployment, building consents, homelessness, deprivation, cultural and heritage concerns on wāhi tapu.
So in highlighting a percentage of the 85 per cent. They are the biggest issues or problems I see, not only up here in the north I might add.
My answer to what I'd do if elected? I would consult absolutely vigorously 110 per cent. He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata, as part of the fix.
As for me, to even try and fix the biggest issue (problem), I'd need at least a good slice of the 100 years the previous mayors have had to roll the issue (problem) back and forth across the table to fix it. Watch this space!
PS I could be the real mayor-gician that pulls the rabbit out of the hat. I will leave it at that, for your consideration being a matter of fact.
■ Responses were not received from Jay Hepi or Kuini Matene.