A proposal to outsource Rotorua's wastewater management via a
has scaled its second-to-last hurdle, despite 81 per cent of submitters opposing the plan.
Today Rotorua Lakes Council's Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee agreed to refer the proposal on to a meeting of the full council, which will next meet on Wednesday next week. There was not unanimous support for the referral, however, with councillors Raj Kumar, Peter Bentley, Reynold Macpherson and Sandra Kai Fong opposed, and councillor Fisher Wang abstaining.
The proposal, first presented in May, was to enter into a 10-year contract with a consortium - referred to as the Trility consortium - made up of Trility, Fulton Hogan and Stantec - for the provision of wastewater services across the district.
Public consultation on a statement of proposal for the idea opened on May 21 and closed on June 17, with 27 submissions received.
Of those, feedback was overwhelmingly in opposition to the proposal, with four in support and 23 opposed. One submission did not state its position, asking to be heard at a hearing on June 25, but that did not eventuate.
Among those opposed to the proposal was former mayor Kevin Winters, who said at the hearing on the 25th that the proposal was "biased" in favour of adoption, and there were "far too many risks and far too many unanswered questions".
Today,following a confidential morning workshop on the topic, council infrastructure manager Stavros Michael presented a report to the committee on the proposal and the public feedback the council had received on it.
He said there was a "legacy" of underinvestment in wastewater infrastructure over the previous decades.
In his report to the committee, Michael discussed the concerns raised by public feedback, which included council ownership, local employment, cost and outsourcing.
The council would continue to own all of the assets and "retain the direct control of the levels of service, the funding decisions for the service and primary accountability for the reliability of the service".
He said "predominantly" locals would be employed to deliver the service.
The Government's announcement for a $761m package for a national water overhaul was also addressed in his report.
He said the announcement was "not in conflict" with the council's objectives in the proposal and the "form, structure, funding and local implications … remain ambiguous and unresolved".
Michael's report stated the proposed contract with Trility could be novated - replaced - if the council resolved in future to transfer water assets and management into a consolidated regional entity, as proposed by the Government.
Councillor Sandra Kai Fong said she had attended all workshops, public meetings, listened to public submissions and spoken one-on-one with Michael on the issue to try to get more understanding on the proposal.
"None of my comments are intended to impugn upon the process.
"It was fantastic that we had the workshop this morning … but I just felt that it was a bit unfortunate that the timing of that workshop could not have been at a different time to allow us more time for consideration, deliberation and asking of questions.
"I felt that the public would have greatly benefited from the opportunity to have heard from those experts as well.
"It's actually raised more questions for me that I would like to investigate further.
"The proposal rightly identifies the benefits to the community … but it also has identified a number of risks and I'm not, in myself, satisfied that the … mitigation or alleviation of those risks is satisfactory.
"We are asking our ratepayers to pay an additional sum to accept this contract so that we transfer some of the risk of 'shock' events, but transferring risk is not risk-free.
"I have to have the courage of my convictions to have the confidence to believe in the decision that I'm making, and I don't have that today."
Mayor Steve Chadwick said she supported the proposal, calling it "incredibly innovative".
"Other councils will be saying 'how did you get this far down the track'. We cannot prevaricate and muck around … the community's only concerned about bits of it."
Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson, who moved the motion to refer the decision to the full council, said discussions around Trility's foreign ownership were a "bogeyman" and a "red herring".