Far North District Council is calling for people to have their say on the Government's Three Waters Reform Programme.
Far North residents have until October 22 to participate in an online survey regarding whether the council should opt in or out of the contentious programme.
In August 2020, FNDC voted to join the initial phase of the reform programme in return for a share of $28 million for three waters infrastructure in Northland.
In August this year, the council voted to provisionally opt out of the programme until it had enough information to make an informed decision.
FNDC said it would consider community feedback before making a final decision on November 4.
If the reform goes ahead, it will see the Government consume the water assets of all 67 councils in New Zealand – and amalgamate them into four regional entities.
So far $2.5 billion has been pledged to support councils through the proposed reforms to New Zealand's three waters, namely drinking, waste and stormwater services.
As part of its Three Waters Reform Programme (TWRP) the Government is currently seeking New Zealanders' feedback on how well they are being served under their current governance arrangement.
The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) said the Government is concerned about 'consistent underinvestment in the three waters system, serious and sometimes deadly public health problems, unacceptable pollution of rivers, lakes, and ocean, and a massive funding and affordability challenge'.
According to the DIA, the Government's argument is that communities would have more influence on the new entities' strategic direction through local councils and mana whenua representation (Regional Representative Groups).
It would also mean water entities would have a more stringent consultation process regarding decision making, to a level of detail likely to exceed the current requirements on local government and an independent watchdog appointed to protect and serve consumers' interests.
Far North Mayor John Carter said he was concerned about the proposed changes and felt the reform didn't take into account a number of key issues specific to the Far North.
"The Government claims its proposal to merge the delivery of three waters services would create efficiencies and significantly reduce the cost of three waters services," Mayor Carter said.
"Its figures are only estimates of how investment in three waters infrastructure is likely to impact households, however, and I am concerned that key issues are not included.
"For example, they don't include impacts that climate change may have on three waters infrastructure or costs the council may incur on behalf of ratepayers if they must take over private water supplies that aren't able to meet new water quality standards."
Mayor Carter went on to say a final decision would only be made after considering feedback from the community.
"This programme would mean ownership of three waters infrastructure in Te Hiku and the rest of the district would transfer to a new water entity on July 1, 2024," he said.
"The council would not be responsible for the provision of three waters services and we have outlined other potential implications on our website and encourage people to review this information.
"There is a lot at stake, and it is important we hear from as many people as possible about the future of this critical infrastructure.
"I also urge people to contact their local member of parliament directly to share their views on the Government's Three Waters Reform Programme."
Councils around the country have voiced similar concerns raised by Mayor Carter, with one of the main issues regarding a lack of local control over decision making on water.
A Department of Internal Affairs spokesperson said claims the reform meant a lack of local control was a misnomer.
"The reform proposals aim to ensure the considerable additional investment required in New Zealand's Three Waters infrastructure to protect and enable our people and environment to flourish actually happens, is affordable for communities, and proceeds with appropriate input from mana whenua," they said.
"Councils would collectively own the new water entities and the pipes and plant would continue to service the same communities they do now. Talk of "asset grabs'' or "confiscation'' is groundless.
"Those assets will remain publicly-owned and be managed more professionally on behalf of those communities.
"At a larger scale, the proposed new entities would have the financing flexibility, operational efficiencies and larger population bases to make future costs of the infrastructure and services more affordable for those communities."
Furthermore, the DIA said the scheme would require as many as 9000 additional workers over three decades, with up to 210 new jobs in Northland.
"The investment required in the three waters infrastructure and the associated jobs will create a boost to local regional economies such as Northland," the spokesperson said.
"In Northland, it is likely the same people will be working in the same jobs locally, but for the new water authority rather than councils.
"The Government has committed $30m to upgrade private, rural and marae water supplies. Work is progressing well on pilot projects for this funding, including in Northland."
The survey is open until October 22.
To have your say, visit: www.fndc.govt.nz/Whats-new/Have-your-say/Three-Waters-Reform-survey or visit: https://www.fndc.govt.nz/Our-Services/Water/Three-Waters-Reform-Programme