Editorial: Merger rivals have come out punching

The gloves are well and truly off.

Just as many people might have thought the amalgamation debate was just bubbling along, comes a public stoush between Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio and Tasman Deputy Mayor Tim King.

In the blue corner, Mr Miccio has cheekily been quoting Mr King in this newspaper and on radio as backing the amount of savings that would accrue if the two councils amalgamate. To quote Mr Miccio: "Aldo Miccio and TDC deputy mayor Tim King have both said publicly this week that amalgamation would bring savings."

That statement saw Mr King see red and he counter-punched by accusing Mr Miccio of misleading the public. He wants a retraction and an apology. Mr King could be waiting a long time judging from the latest press release from Mr Miccio. Back to the first round: the deputy argues the adverts infer that he is in support of the Local Government Commission's decision and the financial analysis used to justify it. He says the projected savings of $2.64 million a year were not significant, as stated in the advertisement. Mr King says his position has always been to acknowledge both costs and savings as contained in the local government reports, and to comment on the balance between the two. He says that does not infer support, and goes so far as to say it is a misrepresentation to say otherwise.

Coming off the ropes, Mr Miccio jabbed back by saying the content of the advertisements was based on statements made by Mr King at an amalgamation meeting organised by Grey Power last week. He claims that at that meeting, Mr King noted the cost savings from a merger would be "the more conservative $2.64m", whereas the mayor believes it will be closer to $3.2m a year. Either way, Mr Miccio says they both agree there will be savings.

The end of it? Not a jot. Mr Miccio issued a press release yesterday, stating that everyone knows Mr King is not a supporter of amalgamation and he claims he did not infer otherwise by stating Mr King agreed to the savings to be made from it. The mayor follows up with a jab, claiming Mr King does not believe $2.63 million were significant cost savings. Now for the punch below the belt: "Personally, I find it disgraceful that a TDC councillor, and in fact the deputy mayor, would believe that $2.63 million worth of savings every year is `not significant', as he repeats again in the Nelson Mail today." Ouch.

Seriously, this is political theatre. Easy to dismiss if the issue was not so serious. Everyone is aware the stakes are high – approval for amalgamation would have a significant impact on council staff, ratepayers, and businesses. Proponents and opponents of amalgamation are firm in their arguments – for and against it. As the time gets ever nearer to crunch time, it's not surprising the battleground is getting noisier. Each side is wanting to be heard as they are aware there are huge number of voters in the region who are undecided. Every vote counts, and they know it.

If this stoush between opponents sparks more debate between electors, then ring the bell for the next round.

The Nelson Mail