Councils across the Waikato have added their voices to mounting concerns across the country about the Government's Three Waters reform proposals and are demanding stronger action in terms of consultation, asset ownership and the retention of local input.
Councils have just given their initial feedback on the proposed reforms and all are demanding the Government make major changes.
Like Waikato District, Hauraki District and Waipa District Council, Hamilton City Council agreed that reform is needed, but raised strong concerns about consultation, ownership of assets and the retention of a local voice.
Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate says: "The proposal as it stands needs a lot of work. We are certainly not happy with the model that's been proposed [but] council is willing to keep talking to the government. We have not committed to anything, the ball is now in the government's court."
However, deputy mayor Geoff Taylor says this is not enough and feels Hamilton has failed its residents.
"Hamilton City Council has taken one of the weakest positions in the entire country," Taylor said after the council met.
At the meeting, Taylor put forward a motion to oppose the reforms, demanding they be halted until other local government reforms had taken place and to signal Hamilton City would "opt out" if the current proposal to merge all 67 councils' water assets into four mega entities remained.
The vote was lost 6 to 7 with Southgate among those opposing Taylor's motion.
Taylor says: "We had the chance to send a clear message to the Government on behalf of our community but we choked. This council has been remiss in failing to actively consult with our public despite having eight weeks to do so. Other councils did consult. Now it's highly likely Hamilton residents won't get any chance to have their say at all."
He fears that Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta mandates the legislation and it heads straight to a Select Committee bypassing councils altogether.
"HCC has been asleep at the wheel on this issue - and in my view spineless - and has abandoned its own residents. Our first priority should have been representing our residents – not playing along with the Government's processes. We've failed in our most basic job. We've let down our residents," Taylor said after the meeting.
Waikato Regional Council and Taupo District Council demanded a pause on the reform.
The regional council says there was a wide misunderstanding of the programme and urged the Government to undertake further community consultation.
Council chairman Russ Rimmington says regional councillors believe more time is needed to understand the potential loss of economies of scope in local councils and what this means for local government. "Ideally, we would also have greater clarity about the future of local government, which is under review too, before embarking on a major change to three waters."
Taupo council stressed the need for the reform to be linked with the Resource Management Act and Future for Local Government reviews.
Mayor David Trewavas says: "In our opinion, [the Government] has failed to understand the significant challenges their proposed model presents, particularly around governance and the ability for communities to control their assets.
"We have met our iwi partners, and they have voiced concerns about the process, the lack of engagement and lack of involvement. Council is equally concerned that the proposed reforms will erode Treaty of Waitangi settlement obligations around water, and the relationships that council has with its iwi partners over the Three Waters."
Taupo has briefly consulted its community and found that out of the 587 people who responded to its survey, 64 per cent felt it was extremely important that local government continued to deliver the three waters services.
Matamata-Piako District Council raised similar concerns and stated it does not support the reform because it has no trust and confidence in the form proposed.
Mayor Ash Tanner says in the official feedback: "In our opinion, establishing trust and confidence with Local Government is critical to achieving the successful outcomes desired by central and local government. Councils do not appear to have influence or be able to hold to account the entity [but we] believe ownership justifies a level of influence."
Hauraki Mayor Toby Adams agrees, being particularly concerned about the impact of the proposed governance structure on smaller councils.
"We're concerned that the proposed model will result in smaller councils' voices being lost, which is unacceptable. There's a chance that larger communities' growth aspiration and community expectations will be given a higher priority than ours."
However, he says ultimately success would look the same to every party involved.
"We all want to improve our rivers and waterways, we all want our communities to have access to safe and secure drinking water, we all want to support sustainable growth and development, and we all need new and large investment in our infrastructure to do it. How we do this is what our communities need to be part of," Adams says.
Waipa Mayor Jim Mylchreest noted the reforms felt rushed. "We are in a 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 says she is frustrated with the whole process. "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."
Ruapehu District Council acknowledges the high cost of the Three Waters saying it cannot afford, from a debt perspective, to pay for the required investment in Three Waters without government assistance.
Nevertheless, the council has not taken a vote one way or another as to whether to support the reforms or not and is requesting further information.