A free $6 million to spend on infrastructure and a feeling of inevitability made Whanganui District Council sign up for the first stage in the Government's Three Waters reforms.
On August 19 councillors agreed the chief executive will sign a memorandum of understanding and then development and funding agreements, which many in the council believe could eventually lead to loss of control of its water assets.
The Government wants to improve the way drinking water, wastewater and stormwater are managed by councils. In July it offered $761m across New Zealand in a job stimulus package for work on water infrastructure.
Whanganui will get $3.16m and part of $20.27m that will be shared across the Horizons Region by agreement between its councils. Whanganui would work to get a minimum of $3.16m, and be represented by mayor Hamish McDouall or his delegate.
The Government recognises some councils are not handling water infrastructure well, McDouall said, and reform is probably needed. But the reform is "an existential threat".
The next stages could create publicly owned regional bodies to manage water. Without charging for managing water, the council would receive less revenue from rates.
The Resource Management Review Panel has said 78 local authorities are too many for New Zealand, McDouall said, leading to fears of amalgamation. Councillor James Barron said there was a lot of fear in the room at the Three Waters conference.
"This programme is really about the future of local government," he said.
Whanganui has plenty of artesian drinking water and a new, compliant wastewater treatment plant. Other centres have failed to invest in infrastructure and regional councils have failed to enforce their compliance, McDouall said.
If Whanganui's upgraded facilities are transferred to another body, their debt should be transferred too, he said.
Council chief executive Kym Fell has been "all over this, fighting with the other CEOs in the region to try and shape the narrative our way".
"I think this is the next wave of where we are going and we have got to be listening to it and entering into the debate," Fell said.
Signing the stage one agreements didn't mean Whanganui would have to give up any assets; it only had to be willing to discuss doing so, finance manager Mike Fermor said.
Councillor Graeme Young said Tasmania has one water board but its councils have not been amalgamated. Despite being concerned Whanganui could lose control of local decision-making, councillor Alan Taylor said signing up was a "no-brainer".
Councillors agreed to it unanimously.
Infrastructure manager Mark Hughes has plans for spending the $6.32m. He said it could be used to connect Fordell to the urban water supply, put a new water pipe under the Cobham Bridge and address problem stormwater areas, future-proofing the system.
The work, which could start as early as October, would provide jobs, and consultation will not be needed.
"We don't need to consult the community on this tranche of work, because it's not the ratepayers' money," Fermor said.
"It's not council debt. It's money coming from the Government and they have told us how to spend it."