The countdown is on. The three-yearly local body elections are upon us and there are seven weeks until polling day.
It might be our democratic right and civic duty to elect representatives to govern us but woeful local body election turnout figures routinely leave frustrated election officials despondent.
Our 85 local authorities owned and oversaw assets with a combined value of nearly $100 billion last year. They also collected nearly $4b from homeowners in the form of rates.
Councils make far-reaching decisions that affect nearly every aspect of our day-to-day lives – on public transport, the environment, rubbish collection, dog registration fees, rates bills, where we can drink alcohol and parking policies.
Yet less than half of those eligible bothered to vote in 2007 on who should represent them as councillors, district health board members and mayors.
Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule is urging people to take part this year, but expects the turnout to rise by only 2 or 3 per cent. "You have a chance every three years, to stand or to vote. If you don't do either of those things it's really difficult to complain about what you get afterwards."
Candidate nominations for this year's local body and district health board elections closed yesterday. In the 2007 elections, just 44 per cent of eligible voters cast their postal vote ballot, with Wellington's figures among the worst.
But tightly contested, high-profile mayoral battles tend to prick interest and encourage more citizens to the polls. And several juicy mayoral contests are already shaping up.
Love him or hate him, controversial Whanganui Mayor Michael Laws generates attention, and his imminent departure from the city's top civic post means Whanganui residents are in for new leadership.
Three-time world champion rower Philippa Baker-Hogan entered the fray this week. She sits alongside fellow councillor Ray Stevens, current deputy mayor Dot McKinnon and Horizons regional councillor Annette Main as a leading contender.
Jevan Goulter, 21, backed by adult entertainer Lisa Lewis – is also in the mix, as is the local personality known simply as "Jango".
Porirua faces a culture change with mayor of 12 years Jenny Brash standing down. Mayoral contenders include deputy mayor Litea Ah Hoi, former race relations conciliator Gregory Fortuin, councillor Nick Leggett, former Labour MP Russell Marshall and previous mayoral contender Piripi Gray.
In Wellington, mayor Kerry Prendergast has registered her fourth mayoral bid. Her challengers include longstanding councillors Celia Wade-Brown and Bryan Pepperell, and businessman Jack Yan.
Last-day nominations were also received from Al Mansell, who gained attention earlier this year for being arrested while scaling the Supreme Court in protest against drug laws, and Bernard O'Shaughnessy, a vocal opponent of the Manners Mall bus lane.
Eighteen candidates have put their hands up to become mayor of the Auckland super-city, including Manukau Mayor Len Brown, Auckland City Mayor John Banks, North Shore Mayor Andrew Williams, actor and director Simon Prast and political activist Penny Bright.
In Horowhenua, Anne Hunt and Brendan Duffy will contest the mayoralty while Ross Church, Mike Clulee, Chris Glover, David Mitchell, Jenny Rowan and Chris Turver will battle for the Kapiti district.
In the Manawatu district, Steve Gibson and Ian McKelvie are standing for mayor, while Chalky Leary has won the Rangitikei mayoralty uncontested.
Mr Yule is hoping to be elected Hastings mayor again, but faces challenges from Peter Harland, Simon Nixon and Des Ratima.
Palmerston North Mayor Jono Naylor is also standing again, but Mark Bell-Booth, Arshad Chatha, Leighton Haar, Russell Johnson and Grant Seton are also vying for votes.
In South Wairarapa, Bob Petelin will contest the mayoralty against incumbent Adrienne Staples.
The Tararua district mayoralty will be contested by Warren Davidson, Roly Ellis and David Lea, while in Carterton, Ruth Carter and Ron Mark go head to head.
Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott is facing a challenge from Michelle Pyke, while in Gisborne, Meng Foon is up against Gary Hope.
In Taupo, five candidates will contest the mayoralty, with Rick Cooper, Wayne Richmond, Edna Isaacs, Rex Mincher and Mark Burton standing.
In Wairoa, voters will decide between Denys Caves, Les Probert, Garry Rauri, Here Nissen and Alice Freida Wairau when voting for mayor.
Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy is standing again, with Adrian Sparrow and Hellen Swales also standing.
Lower Hutt Mayor David Ogden is facing a challenge from Ray Wallace.
Information on candidates for Masterton and Central Hawke's Bay councils was unavailable last night.
WHEN TO VOTE
Voting in the 2010 local council and district health board elections runs between Friday, September 17, and midday on Saturday, October 9.
- The Dominion Post
Should the speed limit be raised to 110kmh on some roads?Related story: 110kmh limit moves closer