Mayors: Divided we stand, united we fall

FLORENCE KERR AND JAMIE SMALL
Last updated 05:00 15/04/2014

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Mayors from across the Waikato are united against a proposal to form one council for the entire region.

The proposal by the New Zealand Property Council would, if successful, amalgamate the Waikato District, Waipa District, Matamata-Piako District, Hamilton City and parts of the Otorohanga, South Waikato and Waitomo Districts into one unitary authority.

However none of the districts' mayors canvassed by the Waikato Times said they had received any communications from the property council on the matter and most were dismissive of it.

A summary of the property council's submission - which will be made public later this month - said amalgamation would bring "a greater regional voice, a greater role for the community in local governance . . . [and] cost-savings."

The move could also involve consolidation of the councils' debts, which totals just under half a billion dollars.

Otorohanga Mayor Max Baxter said the proposal was "outrageous."

"Just going on the outlay of the districts they're proposing, especially when it comes to parts of Otorohanga, South Waikato and Waitomo . . . my belief is that the Local Government Commission won't have a lot of interest in it." His council had been "kept out of the loop" - a sentiment echoed throughout the region.

But New Zealand Property Council Waikato branch president Rob Dol has said attempts had been made to engage.

"We've actually engaged with a number of councils and some of them have chosen not to engage."

Dol said the streamlining of council services put in place by the Waikato Mayoral Forum was a positive step, but didn't address issues like "a regional voice on a national stage".

"We do believe also that there is still duplication and inefficiency in local government in its current format."

He believed the submission would save costs in the long run.

Waikato District Council Mayor and Waikato Mayoral Forum chairman Allan Sanson said the collective did not have a view on local government reform.

Thames Coromandel District Council Mayor Glenn Leach said a reorganisation in his council over three years ago had paid dividends - including a 6 per cent decrease in rates and more power given to community boards.

Waitomo Mayor Brian Hanna said the proposal is "narrow".

"I'm happy to consider anything as long as our people aren't worse off and if you talk about a Super Waikato where we are governed from a central body in Hamilton, I don't think we are going to be better off at all."

Hamilton City Mayor Julie Hardaker said her council had no view on a Waikato amalgamation. "The city is large and has critical mass. Our budget and our infrastructure delivery and our population are less impacted by amalgamation propositions [than] the rural councils would be."

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Matamata-Piako Mayor Jan Barnes said the streamlining of services between the rural councils was already "showing the Government we can give a ‘One Waikato' voice."

Waipa Mayor Jim Mylchreest said his council not been consulted.

- Waikato Times

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