Waipā District Councillors are formalising a submission to Central Government this week for the Three Waters Reform, stating their opposition to the reforms in the current format.
Mayor Jim Mylchreest and councillors also expressed frustration over the way the process has been handled by Government.
Jim first raised concerns about the Government stepping in to reform Three Waters in his regular Te Awamutu Courier column in July last year – even before it was announced.
In his view the rationale was flawed.
Jim wrote: "The simplistic direction being taken by central government is that local government has failed to either maintain its existing infrastructure or to make provision to fund the improvements necessary to meet the necessary health and environmental standards of today.
"This view is widely held across both sides of the House and is unlikely to change even if there is a change in Government."
Three Waters continued to be a theme for the next few months.
In August he explained that the Government was basing the proposed reform on a small number of spectacular failures by a few councils, and also wrote: "In my opinion, there is an element of truth in the Central Government assertions, but they do not necessarily apply to Waipā District, which has invested heavily in this infrastructure over many decades and is also relatively insulated from the worst impacts of climate change.
"There are opportunities to co-operate with adjoining councils to obtain economies of scale, but I am not confident there is a need for the scale of reorganisation being considered by Central Government."
By June this year, Jim was raising concerns at the pace with which the Three Waters Reform, and the Resource Management Act Reform, were being progressed, saying the outcomes were too important to be rushed.
At Tuesday's meeting he reiterated that sentiment.
"The reforms felt rushed, and also needed to involve the community," he said.
"We are in position to let the Government know that we do not accept the reforms in their current format.
"We are happy to move forward and have a discussion with other councils and central Government to design a package that is practical and will actually work, and not waste a lot of money."
Councillor Susan O'Regan agreed the process had been rushed and felt the draft submission needed stronger wording.
"I want to express my frustration with this entire process," she said.
"Last November when we had meetings with DIA, the timelines and timeframes set out were transparent, but then that good faith was eroded with an expensive and offensive advertising campaign."
Councillor Clare St Pierre also contacted Te Awamutu Courier directly to voice concerns about the timeframe for council submissions and lack of community consultation at this pointy in the process.
She said she was concerned time would run out and the Government would just make a unilateral decision on what it wanted.
"Councillors at Waipā have been getting regular emails from people expressing concern about what is being proposed and saying a referendum should be held.
"The biggest issue seems to be even though 'ownership of the waters assets' is ostensibly retained
by councils, in fact there won't be any ability to control them," said Clare.
"This is because Waipā's assets under the current proposal would be part of a large water entity with about 800,000 connections covering 22 councils stretching from East Cape to the Manawatū.
"A governance board of 12 members will have some oversight of the entity, comprising six council representatives and six iwi representatives, with any decision needing a 75 per cent majority."
Clare believes changes in the fee structure will also mean costs per household will rise, not fall, as the result of higher standards across the board and a change in the contribution for new infrastructure from developers to consumers.
She believes there are a number of questions that should be put to the public, and that the Government needs to look at a number of successful models from overseas.
The draft submission, presented at Tuesday's council meeting, will be finalised this week and raises more questions that need answers over the reform, predominantly around proposed governance models, community advocacy (and lack of community voice), strategic planning and the funding for delivery of water services.
"While no decisions have yet been made, the submission is part of the Central Government's process, ending an eight-week consultation period with local government," says Waipā District Council group manager service delivery Dawn Inglis.
The draft submission states: "Council is concerned that we will be asked to make a decision on whether or not to commit to the Central Government Three Waters Reform proposals in the absence of important information that will enable us to meet the key requirements for robust decision-making."
"These reforms will have significant impacts on the community's wellbeing, as defined by the Local Government Act 2002, for many generations and the community has a right to be consulted and their views given due consideration."
Concerns around governance and ownership were also issues that needed answers.
The submission states: "Waipā District Council has significant concerns with the Entity model as proposed, but in particular the governance model. "The lack of Council representation in the Regional Representative Group (with only six Councils represented, and six mana whenua representatives), will not meet either Council's, or the communities' served by our Council, expectations."
"The transfer of ownership of community assets to the new entities is causing considerable debate from a constitutional and an equity perspective. With that transfer goes accountability and the ability to control the direction and standard of growth in individual communities."
Once finalised, the submission will be formally presented to Local Government New Zealand and Department of Internal Affairs, signed on behalf the council by the mayor and chief executive Garry Dyet.
The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union has also waded into the debate and is urging people to stop the reform.
In an email to supporters, they say over the last few months, we've been swamped with questions from supporters across the country about Nanaia Mahuta's plan to reform Three Waters.
"She and her Cabinet colleagues want to take billions of dollars' worth of drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater assets off the hands of local councils and put them under the control of four new unelected, co-governed entities. Those entities will be able to impose limitless water charges without the power of ratepayers to hold them to account."
The union is urging the public to email their council to tell them to opt out of the Government's proposals, before it is too late.
They summarised the proposal, and selected the points supporters found most alarming.
Four layers of bureaucracy will separate the new water entities from accountability to ratepayers;
The entities will be represented by Entity Boards, each appointed by an Independent Selection Panel, which is appointed by a Regional Representative Group, which is appointed by iwi and local councils on a co-governance basis;
Major decisions will require 75 per cent majorities, so in effect unelected entities will have veto rights over these decisions.
The union also said the Government spin on Three Waters has been appalling.
The Government claims its reforms will reduce costs, but as councils up and down the country have pointed out, the financial modelling is based on error-ridden spreadsheets and unrealistic assumptions.
Councils have until tomorrow to formally tell the Government whether they will opt in or out of the scheme and that is why the union is asking the public to have their say and tell councils now, before it is too late, to opt-out.
To see the full Waipā District Council Three Waters discussion, head to the September 28 full Council meeting at waipadc.govt.nz/our-council/agendas-and-minutes