More clarity needed from Govt on 3 Waters Reform
The Gore District Council wants Government assurance the local voice will be heard if Three Waters Reform goes ahead.
Councillors last night considered the implications of the reform for the District and the Council’s feedback to the Government, which must be provided by the end of this month.
Gore District Mayor Tracy Hicks said the Government still needed to provide absolute clarity to councils.
“We need more certainty around such issues as protection from the privatisation of water supplies, how much influence will councils have and what can communities realistically expect if their council isn’t on the regional representation group, and local workforce capability.”
One of the concerns raised by councillors was the level of customer service the proposed reform would deliver.
“The last thing we want to see is a call centre in the North Island or offshore. I am sure it won’t happen, but it’s a possibility,” Mr Hicks said.
The reform was one of the most significant issues local government has had to consider for many years – “it’s important communities have all the facts in front of them so they can make an informed decision.”
Chief Executive Stephen Parry said it was difficult to escape the impression “councils in New Zealand are being shepherded into a reform process” without the benefit of all the details.
Mr Parry was critical of the Government’s unwillingness to discuss other options that may not require “such wholesale and radical reform” as the proposed four entities.
He cited the Waka Kotahi NZTA funding model as an option worth exploring. Councils, including GoreDC, have floated the concept during workshops throughout the country.
“If local government had a subsidy arrangement for three waters akin to what happens with roading, most if not all of the current funding challenges before councils would most likely dissipate.
“Based on the limited options on the table for discussion and/or negotiation, the advantages of being part of the reform process appear to outweigh stepping outside and the Council forging its own independent path without any financial assistance.”
Providing feedback to the Government does not commit the Council to a specific stance on the future model for 3 Waters delivery, nor does it commit the Council to continued participation in the reform programme, Mr Parry said.
The Council’s current debt levels, its covenants with the Local Government Funding Agency and the large investment required for wastewater and stormwater separation were also compelling reasons to remain at the table, he said.
3 Waters projects in the Council’s long term debt projections include
• Gore and Mataura water treatment plants upgrade
• Stormwater separation projects totalling $7.1 million
• Water mains renewals $9.2 million
• Wastewater mains renewals $10.4 million
Not factored into debt forecasts was an estimated $60 million to upgrade Gore’s wastewater treatment process to meet new resource consent requirements. There was also the increasing cost of meeting national environmental standards.
“Taking everything into consideration, we could be potentially looking at spending about $300 million over the next 30 years,” Mr Hicks said.
The Council has consistently warned that small local authorities cannot be expected to burden their ratepayers with these costs and would need central government funding support.
Mr Hicks said this is one of the reasons a funding partnership similar to the relationship councils have with Waka Kotahi was attractive.
“Having a central government funding partner contributing just over 50% makes large projects less intimidating and removes the burden from ratepayers.”
Councillors agreed and decided to strongly urge the Government to look at the delivery of water services under a funding partnership model similar to Waka Kotahi NZTA.
Mr Hicks said once there was more certainty around the reform, the Council would be able to have meaningful conversations with the community about the future delivery of three waters services.
“It’s important to remember this is more than a drinking water conversation. Providing stormwater and wastewater services, which comply with environmental standards and community expectations, are going to be costly issues for us.”
- Under the proposed 3WR the Gore District would sit in Entity D, which covers most of the South Island.
- The new entity would take over the Council’s water assets debt of $8.7 million
- The Government will give the Gore District is $9,153,141 to support us through the transition to a new water entity and to invest in community wellbeing.