If the Government’s proposed Three Waters reforms go ahead, Waitaki District Council rates will go down, Mayor Gary Kircher says.
Mr Kircher made the commitment at the Taxpayers’ Union’s Stop Three Waters roadshow stop in Oamaru last Friday — and was the first mayor to do so, Taxpayers’ Union campaigns manager Louis Houlbrooke said.
‘‘Remember that commitment,’’ Mr Houlbrooke told the 50-strong crowd gathered outside the council headquarters in Thames St.
Mr Houlbrooke said there had been ‘‘incredible turnouts’’ at the Taxpayers’ Union’s roadshow stops in Christchurch, Rolleston, Fairlie, Ashburton, Gore, Invercargill, Balclutha and Dunedin — and he was ‘‘really glad’’ so many people had gathered in Oamaru to demonstrate that ‘‘democracy matters’’.
At present, the country’s water assets are controlled by 67 different local authorities. Under the reforms, announced in 2020, control of drinking, stormwater and wastewater networks will be transferred to four new public entities established across New Zealand.
The Taxpayers’ Union’s ‘‘fundamental concern’’ was that the new entities would be insulated from accountability.
‘‘People making decisions insulated from you, ratepayers, by four layers of bureaucracy.
‘‘Removing accountability is not a way to increase value for ratepayers.’’
While the Waitaki District Council supported the need for change, it did not support the Government’s proposal, and Mr Kircher said he held concerns around the figures being proposed, the mechanisms used and the loss of local voice.
‘‘We’ve got big issues. The Government says our issues, if we have to go alone, will cost our community $1.5 billion across the Waitaki district. That’s over $100,000 per rateable property, which is, to be frank, quite ridiculous,’’ Mr Kircher said.
‘‘Our team thinks it is about $500 million.’’
He received applause from those gathered in Oamaru last week when he said they could go away with the assurance the council was opposing Three Waters.
Mr Kircher is involved in the rural schemes working group, and serves as chairman of the provincial councils sector. He recently met over Zoom with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, local government minister Nanaia Mahuta, environment minister David Parker, agriculture minister Damien O’Connor and others to discuss Three Waters and the future for local government, and raised his concerns with them.
‘‘That’s what we’re going to keep doing and keep telling the Government we’re not happy with what they’re proposing and there needs to be a better fix that actually works for communities like ours.’’
The Water Services Entities Bill — the first piece of legislation putting in place the Government’s Three Waters reforms — passed its first reading in Parliament last week. It will now go through the select committee process, which will include hearing submissions from the public. Mr Houlbrooke encouraged everyone at the Oamaru roadshow to make a submission before July 22.
He also had a message for the MPs on the finance and expenditure select committee.
‘‘As an MP, as a member of our house of representatives for the whole country, it’s not good enough to simply barricade yourself into a room in Wellington to hear the submissions over Zoom or in writing,’’ he said.
‘‘You need to hit the road, you need to visit the communities directly affected, you need to hear submissions face to face, you need to hear from the local leaders, from the civic leaders who were subjected to a sham of a consultation.
‘‘Find out what the Kiwis outside of Wellington, in the productive New Zealand, think.’’