Good discussion on both reforms vital

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Hello everyone.

First of all, I want to express my thanks to all of you who are looking out for others during this Level 4 lockdown. That includes all essential workers, including health professionals, emergency service personnel and supermarket workers.

There is no doubt that this Delta variant is more aggressive than previous variants, and that means we just have to be that much more diligent.

But we have done it before, and we can do it again!

As I write this, it’s Tuesday and we have had the announcement that we will be in Level 4 until midnight Friday. So apologies if there has been any changes – a few days is a long time when you’re dealing with Covid!

My last Oamaru Mail column was on the Three Waters reform, and I received some good feedback on it.

Councils are now in the midst of the eight-week period for getting feedback to the Government, with the intention that we can then get on with meaningful engagement with our communities.

However, the time is passing, and the answers are not coming as quickly as we need them.

Put simply, we are being rushed on one of the largest decisions councils have faced in a very long time.

As part of the Canterbury Mayoral Forum, we have told the Government we need more time.

We cannot have a proper engagement with you, our community, without a clear understanding of the real numbers. If the Government wants this reform to happen, then they need to listen and let us get the facts.

There is also the fundamental issue that the new water regulator (Taumata Arowai) which has the task of setting the standards that drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater schemes must operate to, simply has not been in existence long enough to do that yet.

But councils are required to make assumptions as to what those standards are because the higher the standards, the higher the costs – and those costs can be eye-wateringly high!

At the moment, the assumptions being used would require the Waitaki district to spend more than six times what we already budget for water as we make good progress on meeting all of the current standards.

The Government’s selling point for moving our assets to a new entity is that there would be significant savings to that cost through efficiencies and spreading the costs across the South Island – something our councillors and I absolutely dispute.

Another reason for delaying any change is to allow the reform to be carried out alongside the Future for Local Government reform. As the minister for local government said from the start, removing the Three Waters activities from councils would “free councils up to carry out other activities”, which would focus on improving the wellbeing of our communities.

Let’s see what both reforms mean for districts such as Waitaki, and then we can see what the pros and cons of both reforms are for our people. Will the reforms make Waitaki a better place to be?

So, as we wait to see what the next week holds for us in the battle against Covid, there is also a longer-term challenge for our community.

I hope that we can have a really good discussion on what the future for Three Waters AND the future for local government should be. Is it a case of one or the other, or can communities like Waitaki use their natural advantage of local decision-making to actually do both?

Take care everyone, and please keep yourself and the people around you safe.

  • Gary Kircher is the Mayor for Waitaki