A Hastings election that otherwise might have been fought over dull big-picture issues has been blindsided by another big topic: water quality.
Incumbent mayor Lawrence Yule said the contamination of Havelock North's water supply, leaving thousands sick with gastro illness, would stay a big debating point between councillor candidates and the two people challenging him for the mayoralty: lawyer Guy Wellwood and businesswoman Adrienne Pierce.
As Havelock North ratepayers demand answers over the costly catastrophe, the Hastings District Council has launched an investigation, while the Government has also begun an inquiry expected to take six months.
But the more than 100 people who joined a recent protest march into the city over water issues showed outrage among the community has far from died down.
"It happened, we've had to deal with it, and I've done the best I can in my role, and people will no doubt form a view about it," said Yule, who added the immediate priority was finding out how it happened.
It's not the only big water debate happening in Hastings: early in the next term, ratepayers will likely have to decide whether chlorination of the water supply is continued.
Other issues surrounding the election were development in the Hastings CBD, and Yule wanted to see the $20 million project to complete works on the Hawke's Bay Opera House and have the civic centrepiece re-opened.
Wellwood and Pierce are challenging the 16-year mayoral veteran on a range of issues, including the council's transparency and efficiency, policing, debt servicing, collaboration with Napier and, of course, water supply.
Although the cost of the water crisis has amounted to more than $700,000 of ratepayers' money, Yule wasn't expecting any big spends on the horizon that would blow out Hastings' planned average annual rates increases of 2.7 per cent over the next decade.
He acknowledged Hastings remained over-represented in a number of crime and health statistics, "but in terms of how the council charges and what it costs to do business here, we are still in the bottom half of councils in New Zealand".
The district's economy remained strong, backed by a profitable pipfruit sector.
Yule didn't expect the question of merging with its neighbour Napier would be a hot point next term, after Hawke's Bay residents voted overwhelmingly against a five-council amalgamation last year.
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