Stratford councillors have been offered more than a million reasons to sign up to central government's water reforms, but they only have until the end of the month to decide.
The Government has offered local authorities across the country a significant cash package, totalling $761 million - of which $17.89m is available to Taranaki's councils to be split between them - if they sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the first stage of the Three Waters Services Reform programme by August 31.
If Taranaki's councils take the MoU-signing monetary reward, New Plymouth would get $5.05m, South Taranaki District Council $2.7m and Stratford $1.19m to begin with. They would then have until the end of September to decide how the remaining $8.95m allocated to Taranaki would be divided between the three councils.
The water reforms encourage councils to adopt a "shared services model", effectively transferring their water assets away from local ownership and control, something Stratford Mayor Neil Volzke says he isn't sure is right for Stratford in the long term.
"We will have to weigh up access to government funding against the loss of control of one of our community's core services."
The investment package has been designed to encourage water projects that will stimulate the economy and also raise water standards across the country. It will come in three parts, or tranches, with the first tranche being a non-binding agreement that council will provide information to central government to inform future conversations and decisions regarding the delivery of water services. Details of the other tranches are yet to be released.
Stratford District Council chief executive Sven Hanne says decisions on signing up to each of the tranches will be made by elected members. The short timeframe given by government for the first tranche means an extraordinary meeting is being called for elected members to decide by the deadline.
Neil says signing up to the first tranche doesn't commit council to signing over the district's water assets, or giving up control of the district's water supply or treatment, but will bring some financial benefit to the community.
He says he thinks elected members are likely therefore to agree to the first tranche, but will need further information on the second and third tranches before any decisions on those are made.
"We have a strong record of delivering quality water services to the Stratford district. Our drinking water is totally compliant with national standards, and our sewage treatment system has just had its operating consent renewed.
"Like most councils, stormwater management is an ongoing process of steady improvements which have barely been discussed in these reforms, meaning we don't have all the information we need at this point."
Sven says he is concerned a shared services agreement won't benefit the Stratford community.
"Proposed models I have seen so far, showing what the shared services agreement might look like, have ranged from a model covering all of Taranaki to a model in which all the central North Island councils are in one agreement. I believe this would lead to a significant reduction of service for Stratford ratepayers.
"We already have the Forgotten World Highway, I don't think we want to have the forgotten world water services as well."
Disclaimer: Editor Ilona Hanne is married to the chief executive of Stratford District Council.