Whangārei's council is considering pulling out of the huge national water reform project - and delivered a stinging blow with a formal report saying "that the government is prepared to 'walk back' its promises.
The prospect is raised in a report prepared for the next Whangārei District Council meeting and says central government's failure to provide information meant it "has not shown a coherent case for reform for Whangārei".
The Three Waters reform is a massive, multi-billion dollar shake up of how the country manages drinking water, storm water and waste water. It is creating regional public agencies to manage water infrastructure, which would see councils transfer assets and income off their books.
Whangārei council's fresh, storm and waste water assets were worth $634 million with a replacement value of $1.3 billion.
A briefing to the next Whangārei District Council meeting by chief executive Rob Forlong has recommended pulling out of the voluntary scheme.
He said the council had yet to receive detailed data from the Department of Internal Affairs to show the benefit Three Waters would have for Whangārei. No detailed information had come back from DIA and the next council meeting was a day short of the deadline to withdraw.
Forlong said DIA had not provided - despite repeated requests - "specific information which shows that Whangarei ratepayers would be better off under the reform programme".
Forlong's report detailed how Whangārei's water systems had been recently upgraded and were in good condition, unlike those in many other parts of New Zealand.
The report also raised concerns about the reform becoming compulsory, saying "the recent cancelling of the four-lane highway between Marsden Point and Whangarei suggests that the Government is prepared to 'walk back' its promises".
"In short, council may have the government three waters proposals forced on them."
Mai said council had previously "expressed disappointment" over the decision to cancel the four-laning of State Highway 1 leading into Whangārei.
In an interview with the Advocate, Mayor Sheryl Mai wouldn't say she trusted the government: "It's a tough one to answer yes or no." She said council had also changed direction on projects.
She raised the cancelled roading project again in the context of possible compensation for ratepayers, should the council decide to continue with the Three Waters reform.
Mai said the lack of the information promised by DIA made it difficult for council to continue with the reform when it next met on June 29 and the deadline for withdrawing was the next day.
The council's assessment was that ratepayers stood to lose, she said. "Government need to offer us a deal to compensate ratepayers for the loss of our assets."
She said it could come in the form a community trust or contributions to specific projects. "We could go cap-in-hand and say we'd quite like out road back."
Local Government New Zealand president Stuart Crosby - who sits on the Three Waters Working Group - said Whangārei council was not alone in its concerns.
"There is a lot of concern up and down New Zealand at the moment and a lot of it is because they don't have the information they've been seeking."
Crosby said the information was complex and he believed DIA would be able to provide accurate data to support decision-making by the end of the month, or early July. He said the June 30 deadline was not the final "opt-out" date.
It is understood Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta made contact with Furlong late yesterday to ease concerns.
She told the Advocate the council-specific information would available in the next three weeks which would allow a proper assessment of staying in the Three Waters reform.
"I would be concerned if councils made decisions prematurely before their own ratepayers had a chance to understand the benefits to them directly."