Merger calls to rein in rates

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 18/02/2013
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South Taranaki Mayor Ross Dunlop

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Taranaki's councils should consider combining into one to put the lid on unsustainable and relentless rate rises, the Taranaki Chamber of Commerce says.

The chamber has criticised the New Plymouth District Council's six-month review released last week because it ignored region-wide cost-savings through council amalgamation.

The review found $1.4 million in savings which could reduce this year's rates increase to 4.6 percent.

But a more radical and innovative "One Taranaki" approach was critical to making any significant changes and to ensure a sustainable and vibrant economy, the chamber says.

"The chamber is keen to see a more regional approach to cost-cutting and more shared services which could have reduced the burden significantly throughout the province," vice-chairman Karl Dudley said.

Two of the region's mayors have hit back at the chamber's stance, saying they are happy with the status quo and it was up to their respective communities to decide whether there should be a merger.

The councils already worked closely, meeting quarterly through the Mayoral Forum, and sharing the cost of many services, Stratford Mayor Neil Volzke and South Taranaki Mayor Ross Dunlop said.

They have called for the chamber to prove amalgamation would make cost-savings.

But Mr Dudley said the challenge for councils was that the projected levels of rates increases were unsustainable.

"Currently there are four councils in the region. That means four sets of elected representatives, four chief executive officers, four executive management teams and four lots of back office.

"Amalgamation or shared services, if well managed, could address the sustainability and mitigate the relentless rise in rates."

While the chamber had not undertaken an analysis, it believed it was time to look at a number of regional models from shared services to full amalgamation and produce a cost benefit analysis for a range of options.

"Our position is that we need to do the best for Taranaki and that means looking at the region as one," Mr Dudley said.

Mr Dunlop said the Taranaki Chamber of Commerce was so far out of touch with South Taranaki it should be renamed the New Plymouth Chamber of Commerce.

"I have decided not to renew my subscription. They submitted to last year's long term plan and did not canvass South Taranaki members for their input and they have failed to understand our community."

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Amalgamation resulted in very short term savings, usually to justify the amalgamation, and the much bigger organisation then struggled to remain focussed and inefficiencies crept in, Mr Dunlop said.

"What is created is a big monopoly that is removed and less responsive to the needs of the residents and ratepayers.

"South Taranaki would also have a significant reduction in control over its destiny. Who would stand up and bat for South Taranaki?"

Mr Volzke said the councils already had joint contracts and shared the costs of the services, such as that provided by Waste Management region wide.

Stratford and South Taranaki shared a health inspector.

Mr Volzke said the Local Government Amendment Act, made law in December, had made it easier for councils to amalgamate.

"That was clearly a signal they [central government] would like to see fewer councils," Mr Volzke said.

But unlike Auckland, where the nine councils had not been working together and were now part of a super council, the Taranaki councils had good relationships and shared information all the time, he said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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