Should councils be able to back sports events or should they only focus on core tasks?
Councils are questioning whether they can back sports events like the Rugby World Cup or install security cameras as the Government moves to reform local bodies.
The Government is today trying to hose down council concerns over the effects of planned reforms.
Local Government Minister Nick Smith said yesterday under the changes councils should provide "public services" and not try to replicate those provided by central government or the private sector.
But he clarified that today saying: "The key legal test for the councils to meet in terms of spending ratepayers' money is that there is a public good."
Prime Minister John Key said the "public good test" was still extremely broad.
"There can easily be a public good in hosting an event like the Volvo Ocean Race, there's clearly a public good for Auckland, it'll bring tourists in," he said.
The cycle way, which he had promoted, could also be a public good, he said.
It was a good thing to focus councils' minds on the provision of core services, such as infrastructure and very important services.
"What we're saying is here's the demarcation line, it's a little narrower than what it was in the past but there's still plenty of scope."
The public good test would be defined in legislation.
Councils often felt pressure to do things that were outside their scope, Mr Key said.
"In the end they end up spending taxpayers' money on what can often be a duplication."
Councils would also have to rethink the future purchase of assets, but it would not affect current assets and would not force a sell-down of stakes in airports or ports.
Smith said the change would not prevent councils from supplying services their communities wanted.
"In my view there is a lot of room for councils in the way they define those public local services and in the way they define that local infrastructure to provide all of the things our communities would want our councils to provide," he said.
The current broad statement had contributed to the rise in debts and rates in the last decade, he said.
- The Dominion Post
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