Wairarapa's three councils on track to be merged into one super-council

Carterton Mayor John Booth, South Wairarapa Mayor Viv Napier, centre, and Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson have all made ...
PIERS FULLER/FAIRFAX NZ

Carterton Mayor John Booth, South Wairarapa Mayor Viv Napier, centre, and Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson have all made positive noises about the merger proposal, despite the fact two of them could lose their jobs.

After the fizzer that was the Wellington super-city proposal, the three councils that make up the Wairarapa look set to become one.

The Local Government Commission has published a draft proposal to combine Masterton, Carterton and South Wairarapa district councils, after its inquiries found there was a public mandate for change.

The new council would be made up of a mayor, elected by Wairarapa district voters, and 12 councillors elected from seven wards, including two rural ones.

Five community boards will also be created for Featherston, Martinborough, Greytown, Carterton and Masterton, comprising 21 members in total.

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With a total population of about 43,600, the proposed Wairarapa District Council would be similar to those of Timaru, Marlborough, Whanganui or Upper Hutt. 

With a land area of 5936 square kilometres, the new Wairarapa District Council would be similar
in size to Hastings, ...
ILLYA MCLELLAN/FAIRFAX NZ

With a land area of 5936 square kilometres, the new Wairarapa District Council would be similar in size to Hastings, Taupo or Clutha councils.

Joining the three councils together is expected to save $31 million over the first 10 years, but the process of doing so will cost $21m, leaving Wairarapa $10m to the good over the next decade.

It would take two years before the savings began to outweigh the costs.

The commission has proposed to keep current rating arrangements in place until the new council and the community have had a chance to consider any changes.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said there was no public appetite for amalgamations in Wellington.
MAARTEN HOLL/ FAIRFAX NZ

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said there was no public appetite for amalgamations in Wellington.

If rates changed as a result of the merger, the change would be capped at 5 per cent, up or down, each year. The cap would remain in force until 2024.

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Wairarapa would remain part of the Wellington region, meaning residents would still pay rates to Greater Wellington Regional Council as well.

The public will decide whether all this goes ahead. Feedback will be sought and a Wairarapa-wide referendum will be held if 10 per cent or more electors in either South Wairarapa, Carterton or Masterton sign a petition calling for one.

Porirua Mayor Mike Tana said it was important for Porirua to keep its own identity.
CAMERON BURNELL/ FAIRFAX NZ

Porirua Mayor Mike Tana said it was important for Porirua to keep its own identity.

South Wairarapa Mayor Viv Napier said there was a more positive feeling about this merger than about plans to combine all nine councils across the Wellington region into a super-city, which was scrapped because it had little public support.

"We're more in control of our own destiny, rather than getting sucked up by big brother, like it was under the super-city," she said.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said the proposed council had good rural and urban representation from Martinborough to Masterton.

Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy said there had been no discussions about any possible merger with Lower Hutt.
COLIN WILLIAMS/ FAIRFAX NZ

Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy said there had been no discussions about any possible merger with Lower Hutt.

But it could meet opposition from smaller areas, which did not want to be swallowed up.

Carterton Mayor John Booth said it was a good thing the final decision was in the hands of the public.

Regional council chairman Chris Laidlaw said the only change to its organisation would be the addition of a 10-member Wairarapa committee.

Greater Wellington Regional Council chairman Chris Laidlaw. Wairarapa originally asked to be cut free from the regional ...
MONIQUE FORD/ FAIRFAX NZ

Greater Wellington Regional Council chairman Chris Laidlaw. Wairarapa originally asked to be cut free from the regional council, but under the latest proposal it will continue to be part of it.

Regional rates would not be affected, he said.

If approved, the Wairarapa District Council could see its first election in late 2018, serving an initial four-year term before reverting to a three-year cycle.

NO MORE WELLINGTON MERGERS

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said he did not expect the Wairarapa proposal to reignite debate over a Wellington-Porirua merger.

"There is no public appetite for it.," he said.

Porirua Mayor Mike Tana agreed it was important for Porirua to keep its own identity. "Given that Justin is quite strongly against having that [merger] conversation, we can assume cold water has been poured on that idea."

Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy said any decision on whether his council combined with Hutt City Council was ultimately up to the public, but there had been no discussions about such a move.

"It's not about individual councils, it's about us working together where we can to benefit the whole Wellington region."

THE PROS

* About $10 million in net savings over 10 years.

* One set of council rules, processes and fees across Wairarapa

* Stronger, more united voice for the community as a whole

* Easier and cheaper for companies and community groups to do business

* Simplified council decision-making

* More effective at delivering infrastructure

THE CONS

* Fewer councillors per resident than now

* Reduced Wairarapa representation on regional committees and forums

* Transition costs would outweigh the savings from merging for the first two years

* Could affect council productivity

* Uncertain future for some council staff

THE PROCESS SO FAR

May 2013: The three Wairarapa councils ask the commission to merge them into a single council, and end the regional council's influence in Wairarapa.

June 2013: Greater Wellington Regional Council asks the commission to merge the nine councils across Wellington, Hutt Valley, Porirua, Kapiti and Wairarapa into one super-council.

June 2015: Commission decides not to proceed with a Wellington super-city, but to discuss other options for change.

February-June 2016: Commission develops six options for local government change in Wairarapa and gathers public opinion.

July 2016: Feedback reveals a majority of people prefer a combined Wairarapa District Council

March 2017: Commission releases draft proposal for combined council and calls for submissions.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

May 3: Closing date for submissions

May 23: Hearings begin

July-November: Commission decides whether or not to proceed with a final proposal for merger.

November 2017-April 2018: Referendum on final proposal (if sought)

Mid 2018: If new council is approved, a transition body will be formed with representatives of the three current councils

October 2018: Potential first election of the new council.

 - Stuff

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