A push to make the Far North a unitary authority is building momentum.
The move has been underway since 2008 but the working group spearheading the effort has begun taking its message to the community.
Far North mayor Wayne Brown and iwi representative Rangitane Marsden co-chair the group and have been talking to communities since August 14.
They are encouraged by early support.
Mr Brown says the Far North will be way better off when it becomes a unitary authority without doing anything.
“There's an immediate improvement in our financial position,” he says.
Mr Brown says the Far North is bigger than Whangarei in area and has a greater rates income and population because of its seasonal homeowners.
“We have a much bigger balance sheet, we have way more assets than they do, the only number that they have more than us is debt,” he says.
“We're in much better financial shape than Whangarei.”
Whangarei is a good neighbour, but the people of the Far North don't want to be governed by it, he says.
The unitary approach combines the functions of district or city and regional councils.
Resource consents and regional transport planning are among the responsibilities of regional councils that a unitary authority would subsume.
More than a third of New Zealanders are governed by unitary authorities.
The proposal Mr Brown and Mr Marsden are advocating would see Northland divided into a Whangerei-based body that includes Mangawhai and a Kaikohe-based authority incorporating the Far North and possibly Dargaville.
The proposal includes three Maori wards in the Far North that would each provide an elected member to the authority.
The working group says a Far North unitary authority creates a far stronger voice in Wellington and would remove the Whangarei influence on the area.
The working group says nearly half of Northland's roads are in the Far North but the district council has only one representative on the 12-member Regional Land Transport Committee.
Mr Brown says a detailed proposal stating what the working group wants to do, why the proposal is being forwarded, what the implications of it are and what the identified communities of interest think about it should be ready by the end of September to meet the October submission schedule.
The move will come with input and community approval, unlike the last time councils underwent a change, he says.
Mr Brown says the fact that the two largest organisations involved are keen to pursue an approach that preserves their roles should have weight despite the different approaches that will come forward by October for the Local Government Commission.
“We're a $100 million business, the regional council is only a $25 million business, we'd only be taking half of that back,” Mr Brown says. Mr Brown says he asks audiences, “Who wants to be governed by Whangarei?
“Nobody's put their hand up for that one yet.” It's a matter of focus for Mr Brown. He says that there is developable land near the ports that are being eyed for development by the Whangarei-centric regional council.
“What they're wanting to do is put in the processing factories that I want to have up here and Rangitane [Mr Marsden] wants to have up here,” he says. “These are our trees, this is our place and these are our unemployed people and I want our jobs here not at Ruakaka.
“I got elected mayor solely to lift the economic performance of my district and this is a golden opportunity to do that,” he says. “At the moment, I'm fighting Whangarei for every opportunity.”
Mr Marsden says there is some misinformation in the community as to who is driving the change to local government.
He says people should realise “the Government itself has basically laid down the challenge that things need to happen and get on with it otherwise we'll do it without you".
The unitary authority is a vehicle for Maori inclusion in the governance of Northland, he says.
“If they're going to go forward in that direction, let's be a part of that process.”
Forty per cent of the population in the Far North is Maori and Mr Marsden says he agrees with the characterisation of that population as “disengaged”.
“I think the Government has also sent a clear warning to councils around the country as well, that the cost of bureaucracy and administration and infrastructure keeps continually rising and as a result of that I think you're getting, right across the whole country, revolts against councils in terms of the costs of rates.”
Mr Marsden says that's not a fight for iwi but he sees this as an opportunity for change.
He says the Kaipara District Council's current situation is a classic example of what happens when local government fails.
Mr Marsden says the process by which a unitary authority is to be established provides a vehicle for Maori involvement in local government.
“You've got some ideas about how to improve local government. We've got some ideas about how we can contribute to that improvement.
"Let's talk about how we can do that together," Mr Marsden says.
“The identity, and the ability of local initiatives gets lost in the mainstream approach of one size fits all.”
- Bay Chronicle