Debate over Waikato's water is heating up

LIBBY WILSON
Last updated 11:52 28/06/2014

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Several Hamilton city councillors have warned that a move to a business-style of managing water across councils is the first step towards metering and privatising water.

The issue got several Hamilton city councillors fired up at a meeting on Thursday.

Others said they should calm down and wait until they had more information about how the system would work.

In the end, councillors voted 9-3 for staff to look into it through a detailed business case.

A proposal for a council-controlled organisation (CCO) emerged in May, from an independent report commissioned by the Waikato Mayoral Forum.

Hamilton City Council, Waikato District Council and Waipa District Council would have their water and wastewater services managed through the CCO.

But the proposal can't go ahead unless all three councils agree.

The new organisation idea riled councillor Martin Gallagher, who said it was the first stage of the water meter debate and meant less control for council.

"I honestly believe the CCO model takes us down a journey that I think in time we will regret," he said.

"We get two board meetings per annum in public session for an asset that the public of this city and region own already."

And councillor Dave Macpherson said it was a jump too far down the chain too soon.

He also saw the CCO model as a precursor to water metering and privatisation.

"I'd like to see us looking first at how we can improve things in a public service model.

"That should be the first approach," he said.

However, he only found two more supporters for his amendment, which failed to pass.

But deputy mayor Gordon Chesterman said Macpherson was "jumping to conclusions".

"Certainly I feel there are some other options . . . but I think that this [business case] is a good step to take. We don't have to accept the business case," he said.

"I simply want the information on which to base a judgment, a decision that is informed."

And councillors should "calm down" and let the option be investigated or they were shutting the door on possible savings, councillor Angela O'Leary said.

"I think the comments around water meters and privatisation have done our residents a massive disservice," she said.

"I think we need to do our due diligence and just calm down," he said, "and get this next information so we're fully informed then to make the right decision."

Council staff will also consider an "enhanced shared services model" in the business case.

Enhanced shared services could include councils working together under agreements or contracts, advisory boards, or with shared operational staff but without creating a company structure, performance group general manager Blair Bowcott said.

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Waipa and Waikato district councils are expected to formally discuss the issue and make their decisions in the coming weeks.

HOW IT WOULD WORK

Across three councils' services:

Hamilton City Council, Waikato District Council and Waipa District Council

Joint council committee appoints directors and monitors performance

Council-controlled organisation (CCO) covers water and wastewater services

Owns the water assets

Is responsible for the water liabilities

Runs like a business

Doesn't pay dividends or surpluses to shareholders

Source: Waikato Water report to Waikato Mayoral Forum, April 2014

- Waikato Times

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