Local body amalgamation in Southland would create greater efficiencies and give rural communities a stronger voice.
That's the message National's Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean gave delegates at the Grey Power national conference in Invercargill this week.
Touting the Government's local body reform policies, she said amalgamations had the potential to improve the efficiency of public service delivery by reducing duplication.
"The sharing of services such as roading, auditing and financial services is already happening in some communities and it's having an effect on what comes out of ratepayers' pockets.
"It's those sorts of savings that communities in Southland deserve.
"This is about providing good quality local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions at the least possible cost to households and businesses."
Since 2002 rates had increased on average by 6.8 per cent – more than double the rate of inflation – while local government debt had quadrupled in that time from $2 billion to $8b, Mrs Dean said.
The reforms would streamline council reorganisation procedures, allowing proposed changes to be community focused.
"Change must be driven by local communities and it's crucial that those communities don't lose their representation."
A new provision was to develop ward boundaries in rural areas, based around communities of interest and population.
But change could not happen unless it was community driven, Mrs Dean said.
"Amalgamation has to happen because the community wants it – it doesn't work unless there's a consensus."
But Labour MP Annette King questioned the effectiveness of local government reform.
"Amalgamation, in my view, is not necessarily the panacea for better local government.
"Many local authorities are already efficient. Some could do better, but they don't need the heavy hand of government to do it for them, as is proposed with this legislation," she said.
"Will there be more efficiency in local government through amalgamation? Let's wait and see what happens in Auckland."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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