Lone mayor ready for one council

Pro amalgamation: Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule.
Pro amalgamation: Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule.

Just one Hawke's Bay mayor is truly ready for amalgamation, and happy that the subject is up for discussion.

Lawrence Yule says Better Hawke's Bay's proposal for a combined council for all of Hawke's Bay, released last week, is "pragmatic".

He is a lone voice though, with Central Hawke's Bay Mayor Peter Butler furious at the "absolutely disgusting" way the lobby group had included his district in their proposal without discussing it with him.

Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott is determined to gather the signatures to force a referendum, saying her residents would be marginalised under the proposal, and Wairoa Mayor Les Probert says the negatives outweigh the positives for his ratepayers.

Regional council chairman Fenton Wilson says combining the long- term environmental concerns of the regional council, with the urban issues the district and city councils coped with, are "not a natural fit".

The proposal

Six councillors for Napier, six for Hastings, and two each for Wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay, is how A Better Hawke's Bay (ABHB) envisages a single council for the region.

They would be headed by a mayor elected from across the region.

Community boards of five elected members, in Hastings, Napier, Central Hawke's Bay and Wairoa, would decide local matters.

The pro-council amalgamation lobby group announced last week that it would lodge its application for reorganisation of the region's local bodies with the Local Government Commission next month.

At the moment 53 elected representatives, one for every 2780 people, ran the affairs of Hawke's Bay.

The proposed system would see a total of 37 elected representatives across the region, but community board members would be much lower paid than councillors.

ABHB had not calculated the potential savings to ratepayers of having just the one council, said chairwoman Rebecca Turner.

She pointed to the McGredy Winder Future Prosperity of the Hawke's Bay Region report, commissioned by the Hawke's Bay Regional Council, which considered that council reorganisation could potentially save up to $25 million a year.

Under the proposal, per head of population Wairoa would do best with one councillor for every 4200 people, Hastings would fare worst with one representative for every 11,800 people, Napier would have one for every 9200, and Central Hawke's Bay, one for every 6500.

Ms Turner said while it could be argued that with such small populations Wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay needed just one representative each, it could be equally well argued that their remoteness from the Bay's main centres and their geographic size meant they would need two.

"We don't want to disempower anyone. We wanted to make our proposal as fair as possible."

ABHB is calling for input from the public on its proposal, before it finalises its submission to Local Government New Zealand.

See: www.abetterhb.co.nz.

What the mayors have to say

Napier mayor Barbara Arnott:

People who want amalgamation will think A Better Hawke's Bay's proposal is "sensible", but Mrs Arnott is convinced Napier people will not want it.

"They will want to keep the local in the local council."

Mrs Arnott said when the commission received ABHB's proposal it would call for any others and the Napier council would definitely consider putting forward an alternative.

Then once the Local Government Commission put its preferred proposal before people for comment, she would have 60 days to gather the required 10 per cent of Napier people to force a referendum.

She was "absolutely confident" she would get them.

She would make no prediction about what the outcome of a vote across the region would be. A lot would depend on the final proposal the commission put out.

ABHB's proposal was disingenuous, she said. "They talk about the $25 million saving but there hasn't been any savings across Auckland in the three years since they amalgamated."

While administration savings might have been made at the Auckland council's head office, the extra administration costs of running the council-controlled organisations needed to run Auckland had eaten that up, she said.

There might be "a few benefits" to amalgamation but she believed the marginalisation people would suffer outweighed them.

Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule:

Mr Yule has long been a proponent of amalgamation. He said the Better Hawke's Bay proposal was a "pragmatic way of looking at restructuring".

He said the "completely angsty" concern being expressed by some was unnecessary.

"The process is quite simple, despite how complicated some people seem to want to make it and it is amazingly democratic. It will be a majority decision by all.

"In the end, Hawke's Bay has to grow up and recognise that what's important to the entire region is more important than the individual parts."

Central Hawke's Bay mayor Peter Butler:

"It's absolutely disgusting that they have included Central Hawke's Bay in this proposal and not one of those people have approached us ever on this."

He said the people involved in ABHB should stand for council to drive their desired changes democratically.

"They're nearly all ex- councillors or ex-wannabe- councillors. And the ex-councillors did not leave their positions of their own volition.

"These people are trying to tell us what to do and they haven't even spoken to us."

He said the topic had come up at meetings of the region's mayors but not in any depth and not recently.

Mr Butler publicly opposed amalgamation when he stood for mayor in the 2010 election. He remained opposed and would be standing for office again this year.

Wairoa mayor Les Probert:

Mr Probert is "parochial" and he does not care who knows it.

"As Wairoa mayor, that's my job."

The retiring mayor said A Better Hawke's Bay's proposal "is like the parson's egg; good in parts".

His main concern was that if the proposal got the nod, Wairoa would be under-represented with the potential for that representation to be cut even further. "With six for Napier and six for Hastings, Wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay [with two councillors] would be pretty legless, there'd be little ability to push things through that we really wanted."

He said Wairoa's experience on the regional council provided clues to what could happen. Since the mid-80s it had had just two representatives at the table and Mr Probert said he had recently had to beg the Government not to reduce that to one.

"But really, that second one is only hanging there by the skin of their teeth. And that could happen with this proposal."

Mr Probert could not see that amalgamation would save Wairoa ratepayers money. The district had no debt and rates were "middle of the road".

He believed the potential 16 councillors and one mayor would be paid considerably more than what his councillors were paid, and the proposed community board members would have to be paid. That would add up to more than politicians cost his residents at the moment.

"I can't see Hastings and Napier ratepayers wanting to subsidise us."

At 78 years of age and after 26 years in politics, Mr Probert is not standing in this year's local body election.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Fenton Wilson:

One body dealing with the work presently done by the regional council and the district's urban- based councils "is not a natural fit", said Mr Wilson.

He said the regional council work was predominantly "long- term and strategic" whereas many of the urban council's problems could be fixed almost instantly.

"I can fix a pot hole here, a noisy stereo there instantly . . . Issues like water quality, coastal erosion, hillsides subsiding can't be fixed overnight."

He said his council had not discussed whether it would offer an alternative proposal and had no firm policy on amalgamation.

The Napier Mail