Wairarapa councils plan to go it alone

SEAMUS BOYER AND TOM HUNT
Last updated 05:00 14/11/2012

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Wairarapa's three district councils have launched a plan to go it alone as one entity, but doubts are being raised about the affordability of the proposal.

A working party representing South Wairarapa, Carterton and Masterton district councils proposed yesterday a single Wairarapa Council with an elected mayor, 12 councillors and five community boards.

The unitary authority would also take on all present regional council responsibilities.

In a joint statement, the region's three mayors - Adrienne Staples, Ron Mark and Garry Daniell - said the proposal was a "vastly different approach to democracy" than the single Wellington council recently recommended by the Wellington Review Panel.

That panel, appointed by Greater Wellington Regional Council and Porirua City Council, and headed by Sir Geoffrey Palmer, proposed that Wairarapa have a single councillor on a Wellington-based council and become one of six constituencies under the single council.

"In considering the options the working party has listened to feedback from Wairarapa people who favour a single Wairarapa council and have been very clear that they do not want to be governed from Wellington," the statement said.

"Wairarapa now needs to decide whether it wants to elect its own mayor, councillors and community boards to govern Wairarapa's planning, assets, finances and services; or transfer all of that to Wellington and replace it with one Wairarapa representative on the decision-making body."

A recent report, commissioned by the three Wairarapa councils, showed that the region was at present subsidised to the tune of nearly $11 million annually by Greater Wellington.

Although some savings would be made by the three councils merging, it would still leave a deficit of $8.6m.

Masterton councillor Gary Caffell said that left serious questions about the working party scheme's affordability.

"If ratepayers think we're going to get a windfall from us becoming a unitary authority, then they're wrong.

"And until the affordability question has been settled, I just don't see how we, as responsible councillors, can make a call on what to back."

Yesterday's proposal was premature as there had been little public consultation and his council was yet to vote on any of the options, he said.

Bob Francis, a former mayor of Masterton for 21 years, has also cautioned against a unitary authority, calling it unaffordable and saying it would "place the future of Wairarapa in jeopardy".

Mr Mark said the figures provided by Greater Wellington were bungled, and that a report to be issued next week would provide details of what the proposal would mean for ratepayers.

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After a hui with all Wellington and Wairarapa councils on November 21, the working party will present final recommendations to individual Wairarapa councils, which will then consult the public.

- The Dominion Post

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