A small group of councils are considering banding together to launch a campaign challenging the Government's three waters proposals.
The group has circulated a draft memorandum of understanding to prospective councils, urging them to sign up to the campaign.
The group is believed to consist of the Timaru, Manawatū, Far North and Waimakariri District Councils, although only Waimakariri confirmed it had signed up. Those councils were approached for comment.
Waimakariri District Council mayor Dan Gordon said that across the sector "there was near consensus that the model now being mandated wasn't acceptable to councils or our communities (67 councils opposed the model)".
"We believe each asset owner has the right to determine how best to meet those requirements and that there are a number of alternative and viable delivery models that would be supported by ratepayers across New Zealand.
"For these reasons, and also because a survey of residents on Three Waters reform showed 95 per cent of respondents said they wanted our council to opt out, we have decided to join and sign the MOU and work with partner councils," Gordon said.
According to the draft MOU, councils will pay between $10,000 and $20,000 to join the campaign, depending on the size of the council.
Manawatu District Council mayor Helen Worboys, who is acting as a spokeswoman for the group, said it was "still really in the discussion phase".
"We are having a conversation with a number of councils who share our view that they are opposed to the Government making this mandatory, and we're also opposed to the Government's preferred model," Worboys said.
The campaign could be seen as a slight to Local Government NZ (LGNZ), the umbrella group of councils, which represents their concerns in Wellington.
LGNZ's relationship with councils has become strained by the Three Waters debate. Most councils harbour some degree of opposition to the reforms, but LGNZ signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government promising not to actively oppose the Government's proposal.
That decision put LGNZ offside with many councils - including Timaru, which took the extraordinary step of seceding from LGNZ membership.
LGNZ recently apologised to councils for the way it had handled the MOU process - although it did not apologise for the MOU itself.
A spokesman for LGNZ said an apology was given to councils at a recent meeting of new mayors, council chairs and chief executives.
"LGNZ acknowledged we could have better communicated with the wider membership about the details of the heads of agreement with central Government. We apologised for not doing that better.
"While we agreed to not actively oppose the reform (should the Government decide to mandate it), we also attained agreement that no individual council should be prevented from publicly opposing the reform themselves," the spokesman said.
Worboys said the new group was "absolutely not" a slight to LGNZ.
"We've been completely transparent with LGNZ ... we completely support LGNZ," she said.
However, she said a group was needed to put councils' opposition to the reforms to the Government, because LGNZ's MOU meant it could not itself actively oppose the reforms.
"There isn't the opportunity to still keep pushing our case because of the agreement LGNZ signed," Worboys said.
"All we are saying is Government needs to listen to alternative points of view," she said.
Former LGNZ chief executive Malcolm Alexander confirmed he was giving administrative support to the campaign.
"A number of partners are working to establish a joint approach to debate the Government's intention to remove community ownership of their respective Three Waters assets," he said.
Alexander has teamed up with Hastings mayor and former National Party MP Lawrence Yule to form Yule Alexander, a consultancy that specialises in local government.
National's local government spokesman, Chris Luxon, was floated by one councillor as a backer of the proposal.
Luxon himself said he was not involved with organising the campaign, but did say he was supportive.
"Councils need to have a voice," Luxon said.