The Government's controversial Three Waters Reform should not be forced onto councils, Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai says.
Mai said the Government should put the project on hold because more work was needed.
"Mandating totally goes against the rules of engagement from the beginning. It would show total disregard for these," Mai said.
She said there were indications that mandating was being seriously considered, with councils required to be part of the new Three Waters provision model, rather than opting in or out.
Whangārei District Council's (WDC) Cr Gavin Benney said mandating was not a genuine partnership with councils.
In June, the council became the first in New Zealand to opt out of the Government's Three Waters restructuring, which aims to combine 67 councils' drinking water, wastewater and stormwater functions into four new separate entities.
Far North District Council (FNDC) last month also provisionally opted out of the restructuring. Kaipara District Council (KDC) has hit out at the reforms, although stopping short of opting out. Auckland Council is strongly opposed to combining with Northland in the Entity A structure, seeing itself as providing 92 per cent of the entity's assets and 90 per cent of its population - but would get only 40 per cent of its governance.
The Government wants to combine WDC, FNDC, KDC and Auckland Council into a single giant three waters entity to provide drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.
"We aren't voting to be part of an entity as proposed. We want the Government to keep looking at Three Waters," Mai said.
She said while there were council neighbours that might benefit from the formation of an entity, that did not mean WDC had to opt into restructuring.
WDC reconfirmed its June decision on Monday, ahead of sending the Government its feedback on Three Waters restructuring proposals.
The feedback includes three WDC-commissioned reports analysing government forecasts for the costs and benefits of Three Waters restructuring for Whangārei.
Mai hoped the Government would take WDC's feedback into account, despite her council having opted out of the Three Waters proposal.
Mai said the council should be around the table shaping the sector going forward.
"We want to be around the table because our experience to date shows we have made the right decisions. We have shown we can do a good job with our Three Waters provision. So we are just the sort of council which should be around the table," Mai said.
That was particularly the case if mandating proceeded.
WDC supported the Government genuinely partnering with councils on the changes, but it wanted to be part of discussions on entity governance going forward. Local people wanted a local voice.
The council did not support the Government's proposed governance and ownership arrangements for the new entities.
There were alternatives to these proposed models, which would achieve most of its water reform objectives and outcomes, and WDC wanted to work with the Government on these.
Mai said the Government should pause the Three Waters Reform process because more work was still to be done, to the council's satisfaction.
Deputy Mayor Greg Innes said Three Waters was coming at the same time as other major changes, including a review of local government and the Resource Management Act.
He said debate around all of these things was crucially important.
"... so when we are going forward we don't lose local democracy," Innes said.
Mai said WDC was an outlier nationally because it was in a strong three waters position, with good infrastructure and no debt.
Discussion on a Northland-based Three Waters entity that excluded Auckland was ongoing.
A Department of Internal Affairs spokesman said councils' opt-out intentions were no obstacle to consideration of their feedback or continuing discussions.
The Government was willing to consider alternatives - if the current proposal could be improved on - while keeping within the reform's bottom lines of good governance, balance sheet separation and partnership with mana whenua. These alternatives could include how representation in the Three Waters governance model was determined, how board appointments were made and strengthening accountability.
Governance and accountability had been among the topics on which the Government had sought feedback in its two-month engagement with councils. This ends on Thursday. There would be further opportunities for local government and iwi/Māori input and influence after that.
The Government was willing to work in partnership with local government and iwi to ensure the reforms met community needs.