Whanganui District Council is fielding a lot of questions about the Three Waters reforms and mayor Hamish McDouall wants to ensure the community is well-informed.
The Government released a significant amount of information on the proposed reforms throughout June and July this year, McDouall said.
"The detail hasn't filtered through to the public and we are receiving a lot of questions from our community.
"We are very aware that there is great interest in the process and naturally everyone wants to understand what the proposed changes would mean for Whanganui."
Councils have been given until the end of September to fully understand the Three Waters proposal and consider how it would affect their council and their community.
"In essence, the Government is proposing to transfer water supply, stormwater and wastewater from individual councils to four amalgamated water services entities which would be owned collectively by their member local authorities," McDouall said.
There had been many examples of why the reforms were needed, such as the Havelock North water issues in 2016, pipes bursting in Wellington, sewage leakages into lakes and streams, and ongoing boil water notices in some districts.
"These have highlighted that Three Waters reform must be a priority for New Zealand."
Whanganui District Council accepted change was needed on a national level, with significant investment to protect water and environment.
"While Whanganui is in a good position now, we expect infrastructure costs will increase to meet standards set by the new government water regulator - and service standards - in future," McDouall said.
Modelling published by the Government has estimated costs to households in Whanganui for the Three Waters could be as high as $4200 by 2051 without reform.
"The government modelling suggests this could be reduced to $1220 per household if Whanganui opts into the reform. While we have concerns about some aspects of the modelling, we do believe the reform has the potential to reduce costs to the Whanganui community in the long-term," McDouall said.
Along with transferring assets and service delivery to the water services entity, councils would also transfer outstanding debt on their Three Waters assets (such as the wastewater treatment plant) as well as any direct water services staff. As at June 30 last year the council's water services debt was $81 million.
In late July the Government announced a $2.5 billion local government funding package. This package would be partly funded by the water services entities and partly by the Crown.
Whanganui District Council would receive $24 million from the "better off" funding package to spend on projects that meet criteria relating to sustainability and climate change, housing development and local place-making and community well-being.
The council would also be able to apply for a share of the $500 million "no worse off" package that aims to ensure councils are no worse off financially from the reform. The funding package is conditional on the reform going ahead.
"We want to ensure that Whanganui gets the best possible outcome if the reform does go ahead. Part of that is making sure our community retains its voice in terms of the services delivered to Whanganui residents and businesses," McDouall said.
The council is reviewing the Government's proposal and will provide questions and feedback via Local Government New Zealand by the end of September.
At this stage, the Government has advised that councils will all be considered to be in the reform unless they formally opt out. No formal decisions are required before October 1.
"Under current legislation, councils would need to publicly consult with their communities on whether to remain in or opt out of the reform, as this is a significant decision," McDouall said.
"We expect to learn more about this in early October. At that stage we are expecting the government to announce next steps and public consultation details."
He said the Government could choose to make the Three Waters reform mandatory through legislation at any stage.
More information is available online at www.whanganui.govt.nz/3-waters-reform
• Establish four statutory, publicly-owned water services entities to provide safe, reliable and efficient water services
• Enable the water services entities to own and operate Three Waters infrastructure on behalf of local authorities, including transferring ownership of Three Waters assets and access to cost-effective borrowing from capital markets to make the required investments
• Establish independent, competency-based boards to govern each water services entity
• Introduce mechanisms that protect and promote the rights and interests of iwi/Māori in the new Three Waters delivery system
• Introduce a series of safeguards against future privatisation of the water services entities
• Set a clear national policy direction for the Three Waters sector, including expectations relating to the contribution by water services entities to any new spatial / resource management planning processes
• Establish an economic regulation regime, to ensure efficient service delivery and to drive the achievement of efficiency gains, and consumer protection mechanisms
• Develop an industry transformation strategy to support and enable the wider Three Waters industry to gear up for the new water services delivery system
It is proposed that the new water services entities would become operational on July 1, 2024.