Local bodies being reformed


Here’s a sobering thought — two more weeks and we are halfway through the year.

It’s going quickly, but I’m sure many of us would like this cold weather go even more quickly.

Today I want to discuss the broad responsibilities of councils.

We still have a strong focus on traditional infrastructure-based activities such as roading and water (for the moment at least!).

You may have heard that we are bringing forward $60 million worth of water projects.

These projects are all in our long-term plan, scheduled over the next five years, but with the Three Waters reform proposal we want to get them completed as much as possible in the next two years.

That is currently the best way to ensure that our communities have the best possible water supplies before the management of those assets is taken from us.

Although we are opposed to the Government’s proposal as it stands, we are realistic about the mandate this Government was handed at the last election. We will continue to oppose and to push for improvements to its proposal, though.

When it comes to other council services, there are numerous traditional activities, such as providing and caring for parks, gardens, reserves, swimming pools, libraries and so on.

But the future for local government is being reformed.

The vision for that future is for councils to carry out more activities which help improve the wellbeing of their communities.

Exactly what that all means is being discussed nationally with a panel appointed by the government.

They are investigating how local government can be more effective, and it’s not surprising to see that it includes councils as deliverers and as enablers of services.

Indeed, this is how we have been operating for some time now.

Many of our traditional activities are included in that wellbeing focus — after all, who would want to live in a community without recreational facilities or great public spaces?

Placemaking, as it is referred to, is very important to us, and that expands into helping community groups and individuals in our communities to do what they do best, looking after people or providing entertainment to others.

Examples of that include funding events like the popup Winter Warm Up in Oamaru over Queen’s Birthday weekend, working with the Puketapu Trust in Palmerston to progress an accessible trail up Puketapu Hill with a native reserve on that trail, and working with the Otematata community on its development project to improve the amenities of the township.

These are just some of the activities going on in our Waitaki district which are helping to make this a better place — and working hand-in-hand with volunteers and organisations provides the best results.

The future for local government is coming, and it is exciting.

On another note — we are, of course, getting closer to local body elections.

To be honest, it is still at a stage where, for me personally, the elections are more of a distraction. But it is timely for people to start thinking about whether they might stand for the council, so we are putting out the call for candidates, whether that is for our community boards, for councillors or for mayor.

I believe there are two things we can do to ensure we can have a great election process. One is to have some really good choices for people to vote for, and the other is to make it as easy as possible for people to participate and to vote.

So if you think you have some good skills and experience to offer, please consider standing this year.

I am happy to discuss what is entailed, both with the election and with council work, with anyone who is interested. So please get in touch if you are.

Best wishes and stay warm.

Gary Kircher is the Mayor of Waitaki