There's been a lot of discussion lately around the council's decision to provisionally opt out of government's three waters reform package. It's important that people in our district understand what our decision was based on. The simple answer is: Whangārei District is not like other councils.
When we talk about "three waters", we're referring to drinking water, wastewater and stormwater. Specifically, we're talking about the assets, infrastructure and services for each of these waters, and how they are managed, maintained and delivered.
The concern is that many councils have not provided three waters infrastructure that is adequate or suitable for their populations, and many have high debt associated with their assets. We do not.
There is a growing problem with the lack of affordable, fit-for-purpose water services across our country, and the three waters reform would establish four publicly owned multi-regional entities to manage water assets and services across the country.
For many local authorities, this would work well. It takes away the burden of accumulated debt - water treatment plants, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure come with large price-tags - and provides the peace of mind that comes with large-scale operational capability.
It will improve the borrowing power of those councils, as they will no longer have the large debt of those assets sitting on their balance sheets.
This is where we differ from most local authorities. We have invested wisely over many generations. Our new $31 million Whau Valley Water Treatment Plant was commissioned last month, increasing the capacity of Whangārei's water supply from 15,000 cubic metres processed each day by the old plant, to 22,000 cubic metres a day at the new plant.
We've installed new filtration systems and this plant uses the latest technology. Most importantly: we have no debt associated with this asset.
Our council planned for growth, putting aside money from rates and water income over many years to fund our water assets, and as a result, we're now in a very good position compared to other authorities.
This means our water infrastructure and facilities are not debts to be managed, but rather positive assets – another reason we have one of the highest local authority credit ratings in New Zealand.
If our assets are amalgamated into a multi-region entity, they are effectively removed from our balance sheet, reducing our borrowing capacity and leaving our ratepayers with not a lot to show for their many years of financial contribution.
This is an intergenerational project. In 30 years, we are told, our bills would increase if we don't opt in to the reform package, citing economies of scale.
We need to check this, because we always have your best interests top of mind. Opting out was a big call, but a unanimous vote indicates to me that it was the right call.
• Sheryl Mai is mayor of Whangārei.