Councils in the Wellington region say the government’s reforms to local government will make little difference how they do business.
Prime Minister John Key and former Local Government Minister Nick Smith announced last month that local authorities will be required to focus on delivering core services, reducing debt and keeping rates rises to the rate of inflation. Councils were also given more tools to constrain salary costs and more power for mayors.
Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace says his council is already doing what the government requires.
“We’re already focussed on delivering best services for ratepayers. Reducing debt and keeping rates increases in line with inflation are issues we’re already on top off. But good on Nick Smith for giving us a challenge.”
The reforms also require councils to only undertake activities if they are in the public good. But Mr Wallace says that will make little practicable difference. “You could drive a bus through what’s in the public good. In reality, everything we do is for the public good.”
Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett was initially concerned that his council’s advocacy role could be seriously constrained by the changes. But Mr Leggett says his concerns have been allayed.
“The changes are constructive and fairly minor.”
Mr Leggett says his council won’t need to rethink any of its current functions as a result of the reforms. “We’re about infrastructure. We’re not a social service provider.”
Mr Leggett says he is concerned about a requirement to keep rate increases below inflation, even after major borrowing. “If we have to borrow to build the link roads to Transmission Gully and that leads to rates increases, we’ll have no choice but to cut services.”
Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says she is comfortable with the government’s proposals.
“It’s positive to see that the things that make Wellington unique, such as council’s role in the International Arts Festival and our successful tourism strategy, are recognised by the minister as functions to be retained.
“It is encouraging to see councils will still have the broad purpose to deliver what their communities want, including cleaner harbours and quality drinking water.”
On regional governance, Ms Wade-Brown welcomes the potential for positive change.
“My preferences for the future of Wellington’s local governance are clearly on the record – I question the role and need for a regional council and I believe Wellington City Council should have more control over local planning issues and services like public transport.
“The public must have its say in the future governance of Wellington, and I am pleased the proposals recognise this.”
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