“I bet you’re glad you’re not on the Dunedin Council right now.”
At least four people have said that to me since news broke of lead contamination in the Waikouaiti and Karitane water supplies.
And they’re right.
I am glad I’m not a Dunedin councillor right now.
Events like this are every councillor’s nightmare.
The anger is intense, the embarrassment acute and, most importantly, the harm can be serious.
We must hope that’s not the case this time for the sake of everyone in those two communities.
This is rightly a major story and will be for some time.
But there’s another, bigger story looming.
And this one will affect every council-owned system in the country, good or bad.
What we face at the moment is a takeover bid. The Government has decided councils can’t be relied on to deliver safe drinking water.
If you’ve been following what’s planned with council-owned water supplies, you’ll know the story.
The Government’s proposed a plan to take control of water supplies away from council (and communities) and give it to a small number of big regional organisations. Supposedly, there’ll be consultation about such things, but so far the consultation’s been strictly on the Government’s terms and to the Government’s timetable.
Call me cynical, but in the time I’ve been involved with local government I’ve seen proposals like this before and pretty much every time, the Government gets what it wants and councils get shafted.
How these water delivery changes will end isn’t 100% certain right now but, odds on, councils will lose control of water supplies which will end up being operated by these proposed bigger organisations.
And, odds on, you’ll end up with a water meter and pay as you do for power – with a monthly bill.
Then we’ve got David Parker’s planning reforms, which will see the local plans we have now get replaced with a dozen or so mega-plans, covering much bigger areas and giving regional councils a much bigger role.
Put simply, you’ll have less say over what happens in our part of the world.
Less local say means less local choice and less local control. All because Wellington knows best. Or thinks it does.
Mind you, when you look at our mental health and child poverty statistics, or data on educational under performance, maybe Wellington doesn’t know best.
But we’ll never persuade the Beehive, Parliament or the bureaucrats of that. Unless we mount a very stroppy and very effective pushback when the time comes. Which it is.
So gird your loins. If this doesn’t sound like the way you want things to go, get ready to rumble.
And if you want some practice, there are two local issues to consider now.
The first is whether you want a new St John ambulance HQ at Awamoa Park.
It’s your park and it’s your ambulance service too, so now’s the time to say if you think they belong together.
St John asked the council if it can build – and we’re asking you before a decision’s made.
And do the same when it’s time for feedback on the long term plan and next year’s rates.
Please look carefully at what your rates will be and what they will pay for. You may like council’s plans, you may feel they’re things you don’t want to pay for.
Either way, tell us.
Councils don’t print money or earn it themselves.
They take money from ratepayers because the law says they can.
So be sure to give us feedback.
- Jim Hopkins is a Waitaki district councillor