Council amalgamation questioned

JIM CHIPP
Last updated 10:32 26/07/2012

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The Wellingtonian

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A pronounced economic decline has had serious social implications for the Wellington region, according to governance panel chairman Sir Geoffrey Palmer.

The independent panel, comprising Sir Geoffrey, Sir Wira Gardiner, Sue Driver and Bryan Jackson, has until the end of October to consult with the region's residents and make a recommendation to Wellington regional and Porirua councils before they make their own submissions to the Local Government Commission.

The panel released an issues paper last week to guide public submissions.

Sir Geoffrey said the paper's primary focus was about the needs of ratepayers and residents and how to meet them, rather than on possible governance structures.

Apathy in local democracy

The paper identified a fall in the number of voters in local body elections as a cause for concern.

In 2010 the voter turnout in the region ranged from 39 to 57 per cent.

It questioned whether larger councils with greater responsibility would attract better candidates to run for office and whether voters would therefore be more likely to vote.

Local liabilities

Hutt ratepayers could question why, in an amalgamated council, they should bail Wellington out of its debt or leaky homes liabilities.

Wellington ratepayers might have concerns about sharing the cost of making up the Hutt's infrastructure deficit.

Efficiencies

The amalgamated Auckland councils appear to be headed towards efficiencies from economies of scale and shared services of 2.5 to 3 per cent, though the savings will be offset in the short term by the costs of integration. In the first year of its operation, Auckland Council has reported efficiencies of $81 million.

Future councils

The panel has offered alternatives for residents to consider:

No change. "The status quo option is always popular when there is no agreement on what should replace it."

Retained regional council with spatial planning powers and some territorial authority amalgamations.

A two-tier system with a regional council to rate and provide regional services, and local services by the existing local councils.

Two regional authorities replacing the existing regional council and all territorial authorities; one comprising South Wairarapa, Carterton and the Masterton district councils, and the second comprising Wellington, Porirua, Hutt, Upper Hutt and Kapiti Coast councils.

A single super-council similar to Auckland with local boards.

See wellingtonreviewpanel. org.nz.

To make a submission email to info@wellingtonreviewpanel. org.nz or post to: Issues Paper, Wellington Region Local Government Review, P O Box 11-646, Manners St, Wellington.

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Submissions close September 7.

DEBT

Wellington City Council's current debt per ratepayer is $2082.

If all debt were pooled under a super-city including Wairarapa, that would become $1630 per ratepayer.

If Wellington joined only Porirua, it would be $1870; if we amalgamated with Porirua and Kapiti, it would be $2040; if we amalgamated with Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt, Porirua and Kapiti Coast it would be $1610.

- The Wellingtonian

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