Sustainable Wairarapa on unitary authority warpath

WALT DICKSON
Last updated 12:03 05/12/2012

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A respected and influential lobby group has fired a shot at the proposed Wairarapa Unitary Authority, saying its proponents are basing their argument on fantasy rather than fact.

The facts are, according to Sustainable Wairarapa, that a Wairarapa Unitary Authority is unaffordable and could severely impoverish the region.

The three Wairarapa district councils agreed last month to push ahead with plans to merge and become a unitary authority separate from Wellington.

The proposal, which will now go for public consultation, is the result of 12 months' work by Wairarapa Governance Review Working Party, which is made up of representatives of the councils.

A unitary authority is different from a combined district council because it will also assume all the duties currently carried out by Greater Wellington such as environmental protection, land management and transport.

Sustainable Wairarapa says in order for a unitary authority to maintain the same level of service currently provided by Greater Wellington, rates would need to increase by an estimated $450 to $500 each rating unit.

According to the Wellington Review Panel Report (Palmer Report), the region is already one of the most heavily rated areas in the Wellington Region as well as being the poorest.

Wairarapa's ability to pay for big rates hikes is further compromised by the growing number of retired people on fixed incomes plus the high percentage of poorly paid and lowly qualified workers.

Sustainable Wairarapa says it is imperative that the three councils consider an alternative option for future governance in conjunction with its preferred option and present detailed data of both for public consultation.

The two-tier structure as outlined in the Palmer Report and also Wellington City Council's Regional Governance Report - both of which promote a "super" council for the Wellington region - is a good starting point for a second option, says Sustainable Wairarapa.

Under the Palmer Report rates increases would be capped for three years - at current long-term plan projections plus the rate of inflation - while a regional rating regime was developed.

Sustainable Wairarapa says there is evidence in the Palmer Report which suggests that rates in Wairarapa would actually decrease under the proposed super council structure.

The Wairarapa Governance Review Working Party has said that under a Wairarapa Unitary Authority there are no guarantees about what will happen to rates.

Costings and pricing structures can only be determined once the new governance structure is in place, says the Working Party.

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It questions the need for the level of service currently provided by Greater Wellington and disputes the extent of funding provided by GWRC, which according to the Palmer Report is about $11 million more than ratepayers currently pay for.

Sustainable Wairarapa asserts that the same level of service will be needed of a unitary authority, as central government sets the standards.

Minimising many of the functions undertaken by GW and/or shifting some costs currently met by GW to a user pays basis would raise farming and transport costs and further undermine Wairarapa's economy, Sustainable Wairarapa says.

The argument for a Wairarapa Unitary Authority has to date been emotive, misleading and without specific detail, says Sustainable Wairarapa chairman Don Bell.

"It is one thing to have ‘consulted' ratepayers, it is quite another to consult ratepayers without first providing them with the facts and figures required to form a meaningful opinion," says Mr Bell.

- Wairarapa News

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