Prime Minister John Key officially opened the Local Government New Zealand annual conference in Queenstown this morning before elected officials from throughout the country got on with the task of discussing some of the issues they face.
High on the list of priorities for many councils is the cost of infrastructure and funding of expensive projects including the earthquake strengthening of buildings, the implementation of the Alcohol Reform Bill and the possibility of establishing more super councils.
Mr Key highlighted the importance of the relationship between central and local government before drawing attention to the government’s key priorities which include creating a surplus by 2014/15, building a competitive and productive economy, delivering better public services and rebuilding Christchurch.
"Our objective is to ensure Christchurch becomes an example for how recovery from a major natural disaster should work, and continues to be the economic powerhouse for the growing South Island economy."
Mr Key said by the end of June, the government had spent $2.45billion of the $5.5billion Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Fund on important rebuild and recovery intiatives.
Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said on of the big challenges facing local government now would be finding the money to fund a growing demand for infrastructure and new earthquake strengthening standards.
Local authorities throughout New Zealand simply could not afford to meet higher standards within a short timeframe and he said it would be unrealistic to expect earthquake strengthening work to be completed within five years, he said.
"As a nation we’re going to have to have a very long look at the timeframes."
While most councils had few assets available to them to privatise, Mr Yule said LGNZ did not support ‘‘the privatisation of water assets’’.
Although the sale of water assets could offer councils a short-term solution to cash flow issues, the long term cost to the user would end up costing a lot more, he said.
Another hot topic on the conference programme is the Alcohol Reform Bill which, if enacted, will see major changes to alcohol legislation.
"Alcohol is undoubtedly one of the largest issues facing local body governments," Mr Yule said.
He said LGNZ had been very supportive of the introduction of the bill which addressed a "multi- faceted issue" and would ultimately give councils more responsibility in managing alcohol in their communities than they had in the past.
"There will be a lot of work but don’t underestimate the knowledge and amount of work already done by local government," Mr Yule said.
Other guest speakers today included Sir Eion Edgar, Sir Graham Henry and Tourism Industry Association chief executive Martin Snedden.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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