Water shapes as priority

With Christmas a fading memory and the prospect of a challenging year ahead the focus of my thoughts, it's been great to make the most of a bit of spare time and enjoy the wonderful region we inhabit, writes Tracy Hicks in Southern Focus.

For the Hicks family the New Year break has been one of staying reasonably close to home and catching up on a few jobs on the to-do-list . . . anyone who knows my wife, Robyn, will know what I am referring to. But it's been good. Time to read, time to sleep, time to catch up with friends and family, and time to think without any deadlines, except, of course, the looming one for this column.

So what does the prospect of 2013 hold for me?

It's election year, of course, and as anyone involved in local government knows elections can be quite cathartic for both individuals and councils. I guess this is not always bad, in fact often it can be quite the reverse but you never really know the answer to that until after the event, which brings its own challenges.

I believe the Gore District Council is in very good shape, although it certainly has some challenges on the horizon. It is with these challenges in mind that I look forward to seek re-election this year as mayor.

From my vantage point the challenges, in no particular order of importance, come in the form of water supply for the urban centres of Gore and Mataura, mining and industrial development based on the lignite resource, and the hardy annual of local government reform and providing efficient and effective services at an affordable cost.

By the time this year's Annual Plan is adopted it is my intention to have a plan for safe and reliable water provision for both Gore and Mataura in place.

It won't be inexpensive and it will take some time to complete, but we, as a community, have waited long enough and need to know for sure what the future holds.

When it comes to developers progressing proposals for mining and industrial development within our district it is, I believe, a matter of when, not if.

And as I have always said, we need to be ready as a community and district to maximise the economic opportunities when they present themselves while simultaneously being in a position to minimise the environmental and social challenges that may come.

Local government reform has been high on the National Government's agenda for some time and with the passing of the amendments to the act prior to Christmas, they have prepared the platform. Of course, reform can mean many things and some local government politicians can become somewhat defensive at even the very suggestion. However, that stance is not one I hold.

Local government's purpose in my mind is two-fold, with neither subservient to the other.

Firstly, it's about the provision of effective and efficient services to the community at an affordable and fair cost. Secondly, it provides a political forum for local leadership. Nothing more, nothing less.

Reform is, or should be, about making something better.

When we ask the question "can local government be made better?" the answer must be yes.

The real question is "what needs to change?"

Invariably, the immediate response to any question about reform in local government is that we have too many councils for a small population.

Maybe that's true, but retaining the local in local government is very important if you want to have some control of your destiny.

In my mind this is where the advocates of a One Southland concept fail.

The population may well be small but the geography is large and the community diverse, and therein lies the challenge.

While southern councils do a great job sharing resources and services, only so much can be done without shifting political boundaries, and to my knowledge there have been no serious reform proposals floated to date.

For what it's worth, I believe there are two distinct communities of interest in Southland.

One is city based and one rural based.

Of course, within those two communities of interest are a host of smaller ones but to me the city/rural split could form the basis of any political reform that may be successful in the future.

Tracy Hicks is Gore District Mayor.

The Southland Times