Prudent spending and avoiding lavish toys has made the Stratford District Council the envy of its neighbours.
But potential amalgamation lies just over the horizon and, five months out from local body elections, its mayor is ready for the challenge.
"There is a real air of change floating around at the moment," Neil Volzke says.
"There are mayor reviews under way regarding water and road management, and all sorts of pressures to have shared services."
Mr Volzke, who has confirmed he will stand again for the district's top job, said that as local authorities around the country begin to combine, Stratford will become an obvious target.
"Somewhere in the foreseeable future we will be asking ourselves the question - at least."
He said the council's only "big-ticket" project - the $7.5 million replacement of the water treatment plant for Stratford - was a prime example of shared services working for the community.
Amalgamation is simply not needed, he said.
The new water facility will closely mirror South Taranaki's Kapuni plant, which was brought online in 2010.
This will allow them to pool resources and skilled staff with the South Taranaki District Council, which will reduce overheads.
"The thing that sits at the forefront of my mind about amalgamation is, for a small town like Stratford there will be a loss of representation and the loss of identity," he said.
"I don't know how you put a value on these two things, but if you haven't got them you'll know.
"One of our greatest strengths is the fact we are very low debt and we have a very supportive and appreciative community."
Being squeezed between the often controversial New Plymouth and South Taranaki councils has made it hard for Mr Volzke to trumpet his mild-mannered local authority's success stories.
So when the Taranaki Daily News sat down for a chat, he quickly pointed out that the Stratford council had come out as one of the nation's best in two independent league tables.
Tenth last year, Stratford is now ranked third-equal with Rangitikei, and received a "highly commended" comment from Local Government League Table compiler Larry Mitchell.
"In the Berl report, the Stratford district had leapt from the 63rd to the 21st-ranked council. In terms of economic performance, that is a massive leap."
Like its mayor, the council is a quiet achiever, with an eye on creating a brighter future for the land-locked district.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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