Council Controlled Organisations Wairarapa
Local body elections have now been and gone for another cycle, and a topic always not far from the surface is the possibility of councils amalgamating.
There have been suggestions by local politicians and the media that the Local Government Amendment Bill will result in ‘amalgamation by stealth’.
The Bill enables the creation of Council Controlled Organisations in order to strengthen council’s ability to provide services and infrastructure.
Currently, there are 78 councils across New Zealand with 66 water authorities. That is excessive, which is why local governments need to change.
Councils have a role in providing local infrastructure to support housing and business development. However, the reality is that the projected cost of properly managing and developing core infrastructure greatly exceeds the ability of many communities to fund it.
Wairarapa has a static and aging population. We need to think ahead, have foresight, and prepare for the demands of future generations, such as through better water quality and safer roads. Such things are a never ending demand on the ratepayer. Looking forward, small communities cannot always afford the costs to maintain those standards in infrastructure that people expect and demand.
Communities across New Zealand have rejected large-scale amalgamation as they want to keep their local voice and democracy. The Government has heard this message, and amalgamation will not be forced on any district.
The focus of the Local Government Amendment Bill reforms is to provide a wider menu of options for councils to collaborate on the delivery of local services. Two or more councils will be able to form a Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) to jointly own core infrastructure such as water and roading.
Options for CCOs are diverse. Councils could manage services without owning assets – like Wellington Water – or become a trust.
The bill will also strengthen councils’ ability to direct and control their CCOs. For example CCOs must give effect to shareholding councils’ comments on their statements of intent and planning documents. They will also need to give effect to councils’ long-term plans and act consistently with other plans and strategies as agreed by the shareholding councils.
The bill is about enabling greater opportunities for councils to collaborate and share service delivery, without requiring council amalgamation. Low density communities like in the Wairarapa must maintain several wastewater works and many kilometres of road. There is no compulsion to create CCOs, but doing nothing is not an option given the quality of service demanded by ratepayers, and the projected demographics that are required to pay for and deliver those services.