In my column this time 12 months ago, I said 2020 had been a year "like no other". It was a year dominated by Covid restrictions, lockdowns and disruptions, all on a scale that we had not experienced in my living memory.
As the 2021 year rapidly draws towards an end, I could easily write the same words but add "multiplied by two". This year has been extremely challenging for everybody albeit in different ways, and like everyone I know, I just want to turn the page and start afresh in the new year.
When reflecting back on the last 12 months, for council it has been a year full of challenges and big decisions. The impact of the Covid restrictions changed the way we do everything, it necessitated the cancellation of multiple events, it changed the way council held its meetings and added even more Zoom time to our daily lives.
I sincerely thank all council staff and contractors for continuing to provide our services to the community when at times it seemed near impossible to do so. Likewise, to our elected members who stuck to the task in what has been an extremely busy year, thank you.
In my opinion, four major issues dominated the year and created a great deal of debate and discussion.
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The creation of a Māori ward for next year's council election was a bold move for this council which will mean one additional seat at the council table. The establishment of the ward has already produced benefits as iwi relationships and the partnership arrangements with council have taken a major leap forward. Because of this inclusive approach, I am confident we will see this gain momentum and bear fruit next year.
Writing the new Long-Term Plan was a real mission this year and involved a huge amount of work, but we got through. There were some meaty subjects in the draft plan and good debate resulted in some proposals like the green waste collection service being thrown out, while other proposals like the introduction of water metering being approved.
Government reforms added another dimension to the years work and to say we have been deluged with reforms proposals out of Wellington would be an under-statement. It has been more of a tsunami of change and reform proposals, with no end in sight.
The Three Waters reforms were by far the most controversial and rightly so. There are so many parts of these reforms that are questionable, it's hard to imagine how they have come this far. The body blow came when the Government removed councils' right to choose whether we wanted to opt in or opt out of the reforms; instead they mandated the reforms. This was seen as a breach of good faith and any thoughts of a smooth road for the reforms and a trusting future relationship, simply went out the window in an instant.
Then in November the district took another body blow when six cases of Covid occurred in the Stratford community. This was a reality check we didn't need, although most accept there was a high degree of inevitability about this. After pushing the vaccination message hard all year and following the success of the two mass vaccination events in Stratford earlier in the year, it was strangely pleasing to know the community was reasonably well prepared for an outbreak.
The actual response to the outbreak by the health service providers was excellent and with the full co-operation of the community, the outbreak was contained. Everyone should be proud of their efforts to comply with the Covid rules and keep the community safe. It worked.
Lastly, I wish you all a safe and Merry Christmas. Let's hope 2022 is a bright, positive year and we can have some normality back in our lives. Cheers!