Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall says the district has invested heavily in water infrastructure and he has concerns about what a planned takeover would mean for ratepayers.
Under the Government's Three Waters Reform Programme proposal announced on Wednesday, management of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater would pass to a regional agency covering Whanganui, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, and northern Manawatū.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the proposed new system of agency management would result in better, safer services, and help ensure the expected $120 billion to $185b in investment over the next 30 years could be made.
Local authorities had previously been advised they would have until the end of the year to decide whether they wanted to reject the Three Waters reforms. Whangarei District Council has already voted to opt out this week.
Mayor Sheryl Mai told the Northern Advocate there was concern about what it would mean for the local assets ratepayers had paid for, and the risk Northland would come second to Auckland under the model.
McDouall said Whanganui district was in a similar position having invested heavily in water infrastructure and he shares similar concerns for ratepayers.
"In terms of the proposed agency grouping, it makes sense in terms of the catchment area but I'm concerned about the $75m debt we're carrying for the improvements we've made.
"We wouldn't want our ratepayers to be in the position of carrying the existing debt as well as being burdened with debt incurred by other authorities. It needs to be fair."
McDouall said he questioned the accuracy of the figures issued with the minister's announcement.
"You don't replace infrastructure if it's not worn out - you conduct regular checks and replace what needs replacing."
McDouall said he was also concerned about employees who manage water infrastructure and whether their expertise and experience would be retained in Whanganui.
"There are a lot of questions to be answered and we don't have to make a decision yet."
Ruapehu mayor Don Cameron said he was not surprised by the announcement but shared McDouall's concerns about equity and fairness.
"The grouping of the agency looks good but it needs to be contingent on a number of things such as equity for the investments councils have made in their water infrastructure," he said.
"We have six water plants in Ruapehu and we have been conducting a continual progamme of upgrades partly funded by the post-Covid-19 stimulus package funding that all local authorities received last year.
"Whanganui has of course invested hugely in its water infrastructure and that should be recognised. It's a matter of who owns the assets?"
Cameron said it also raised questions about the roles of local authorities and the future of local government in general.
He said the regional agencies will not be able to function if authorities choose to opt-out of the reforms.
Rangitīkei mayor Andy Watson said he has yet to form a position on exactly what the government's proposals mean for Rangitīkei but says there are some concerns on the surface.
"We seem to be the division council in terms of the boundaries of the different groups. There's a lot of information I'm yet to understand about that issue.
"There are also a lot of councils where the dollar figures in the dashboard are exactly the same, so there's been obviously a blocking of councils together. Trying to understand those figures is the next step," he said.
"I, probably like a lot of other councils, will reserve judgment until we've had a really good chance to understand all of the drivers behind the figures. It's early days, and there's still a lot of questions to be asked on representation and priority decision making."
Watson also wouldn't be drawn on whether he supports the general idea behind the reforms, saying his position will depend on feedback from the community.
"I can understand where they're [the government] are coming from, but let's get a bit of feedback around whether that aggregation principle has been effective, for instance, in Auckland.
"It would also be worthwhile talking to a district like Carterton, who I think have struggled being a part of Wellington.
"I've got a lot of learning to do yet."
Mahuta said a support package for councils would be announced in the next few weeks.