Whangārei District Council has this morning provisionally rejected the Government's three waters restructuring plan.
Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said her council needed to make sure its ratepayers were not disadvantaged from being part of any national three waters reform.
Mai said the council did not have enough information to make a wise decision around this and was therefore opting out of the reform at this point.
WDC is required, as part of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed with the Government, to make a decision before tomorrow
on whether to opt in or out of further involvement in national three waters reform.
Councillors at a formal WDC meeting this morning unanimously voted against Government plans to amalgamate its three waters provision into a single entity across at least Northland – likely carving off the council provision of drinking, waste and storm water into a new non-council entity in doing so.
Generations of Whangārei residents have paid towards the district's $634 million three waters infrastructure, which now has a $1.3 billion replacement value.
"In the absence of information that shows our ratepayers will be better off by opting in, I do believe opting out is a better course of action," Mai said.
WDC has tried repeatedly to get information from the department of internal affairs to help inform its decision ahead of tomorrow's
WDC chief executive Rob Forlong said this has included an Official Information Act request that did not bring results.
"… the Department of Internal Affairs has refused an official information act (OIA) request to provide WDC with specific information which shows that Whangārei ratepayers would be better off under the reform programme," Forlong said.
The council has complained to the Ombudsman about not being able to get the required information.
Mai said her council was open to opting back into the process again, if adequate information was provided for it to make an informed decision.
WDC three waters infrastructure and limited debt around this places it in a strong position, in contrast to most of New Zealand.
Water Industry Commission of Scotland analysis showed WDC was in the upper 25 per cent of New Zealand's top-performing three waters organisations, Forlong said.
WDC councillors spoke out strongly against opting into continued three waters participation at this point.
Cr Phil Halse said the way the Government was handling the three waters restructuring was a sad indictment on its approach to local government.
WDC and its ratepayers had put a lot of money into three waters infrastructure over a long time. Sewage spills into Whangārei's harbours and waterways from Bland Bay in the north to Langs Beach in the south had been virtually eliminated.
A new entity combining the three waters functions of WDC, Kaipara District Council (KDC), Far North District Council (FNDC) and Auckland Council's Watercare has increasingly been signalled by the Government.
Halse said Whangārei's position was in contrast to Auckland where 18 out of 22 beaches had recently been closed due to water pollution.
Kaipara Mayor Dr Jason Smith after this morning's meeting applauded WDC's opt out decision.
"We're 100 per cent behind that," he said.
But he said the model the Government was likely providing for Northland's district councils this week to use as the foundation for informing their opt in/ opt out decisions included WDC opting in to the restructure.
"The situation has now deteriorated into a French farce," Smith said.
Smith said KDC would not be meeting its MOU decision deadline tomorrow because it was involved in meeting statutory deadlines to adopt its 2021-2031 Long Term Plan before the end of the financial year.
KDC would be making its decision next Wednesday.
He had "no idea" at this point what that decision was likely to be, given the situation.