Slow down or we opt out is the key message in a strongly worded letter from the Stratford District Council to the Government.
At the Policy and Services Committee meeting last week, Stratford District Councillors approved the sending of a letter to Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta challenging many aspects of the Government's Three Waters reform proposals. Central government had asked local councils across New Zealand to provide feedback on the Government's Three Waters Reform Package by October 1.
The reform proposes the amalgamation of the water services of 67 councils nationally into four water service entities. Under the reform control of Stratford District Council's drinking water, wastewater and storm water (Three Waters) assets would be transferred to the entity currently named Entity B. This entity covers 22 councils, running from Taranaki to Thames/Coromandel.
Stratford District mayor Neil Volzke says it was important the letter was sent.
"Our community has an expectation of us to put forward what's best for our community. We need to tell the Government what we think."
During the meeting, councillors shared their concerns around the reforms, creating a list of key issues to be identified in the letter.
The lack of community consultation was a common theme raised, as well as the number of misconceptions in the community about the reform, says Neil.
"The amount of misinformation, conspiracy theories, incorrect facts and personal views people are exposed to isn't helpful. The Government continues to soften up the public with childish television advertisements, but they should be delivering meaningful engagement to ensure communities are properly informed."
The letter, signed by the mayor and chief executive Sven Hanne, begins by questioning the Government's process.
"The experience to date has felt very unbalanced. The Government's fixed view on what you consider the best way forward, and your failure to carry people with you on the journey makes us question the Government's commitment to partnering with local government around these reforms."
The letter also raises the lack of community consultation by the Government.
''Councillors feel, and our local community has let us know, that the complete lack of community engagement to date on the proposed fundamental changes to community owned assets is unacceptable. The need for this was heightened by what can only be described as an infantile, childish and overall appalling advertising campaign."
It was unclear how local priorities would be met and delivered under the proposed reforms, making local growth and development notably harder in the future, and there would be "too many layers of bureaucracy" between the proposed entities and the communities they served, the letter says.
The letter also questions the level of consultation with iwi.
"We don't think that engagement for these reforms with mana whenua has been done well and are concerned that the pace of these reforms allows no opportunity for this to be rectified."
The letter also highlights concerns regarding the financial and governance models, as well as the timing of the reforms.
Currently, elected members are not convinced the reforms are in the district's best interest, the letter says.
"If we were to make a decision at this moment in time, based on the information available at present, the majority of Stratford District Council elected members have indicated they would seek to opt-out of the proposed reform."
Disclaimer: Editor Ilona Hanne is married to the CEO of Stratford District Council.