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Southland District Council is urging its community boards, CDAs and other community groups to speak up against the proposed local government reforms. Councillors at today's policy review committee discussed its draft submission to Central Government's Better Local Government reform, saying the reforms are badly flawed.
Mayor Frana Cardno is extremely worried about the proposed removal of the four wellbeings - economic, environmental, cultural and social - as this changes the whole purpose of local government.
"These wellbeings are what we as Council are here for - to look after our communities in these four areas. Government doesn't do it and so local government needs to be there," Mrs Cardno said.
"We are hearing a lot of rhetoric from the Government with not much substance."
The removal of the wellbeings could lead to enormous expenses and legal challenges as people debate what is "best" and "most cost-effective."
Chief executive David Adamson said: "We need our communities to stand up and make a submission against this reform otherwise they will lose their voice. This legislation contains significant constitutional change, meaning courts rather than local communities will decide what local government can do.
"These reforms will not bring in the changes the Government wants, particularly around efficiency. There is no evidence that this is a problem and that this legislation will fix anything," Mr Adamson said.
The Government is saying there are a lot of problems but in fact there are only a couple of councils in financial difficulty out of 76.
"Hamilton having the V8s is described as councils going outside their core business, but suddenly it is okay for Auckland to have them and in fact the Government is helping out. Core business has to be determined by local communities."
Mrs Cardno said the reforms will take power away from communities.
"If the reorganisation changes go through, the big population areas will carry the vote and councils will find themselves swallowed up by their bigger neighbour without their citizens having much of a say in what they want.
"We will lose the local which is what we all treasure," she said.
"There has been a concerted propaganda campaign and it is easy to put half a story out. It is time for local government to speak up about our value and worth.
"We have in local government a very strict audit system and extensive consultation requirements and dare I say that if that was followed in some Government departments, we would be better off in New Zealand.
"It's time to stop putting local government down - we are here for our families, our communities and our province," she said.
Deputy Mayor Jim Copland said he was very concerned about the haste in which the reform is being pushed through.
"Change should come through reality, not perceptions and there is no quantitative evidence for these changes," Cr Copland said.
"This is being done back to front, the studies should be done first to find the facts and then legislation be created to fix the problems."
A number of attempts have been made to amalgamate councils since the major reforms in 1989 and they have failed for one main reason - the affected communities have not wanted the change and have voted it down.
"Historically these reorganisations have had a lot of heat, but not much light," he said.
"We are much better working together for a better Southland through the shared services we have now."
Mrs Cardno is calling on Southland ratepayers and residents to tell the Government what they think about this legislation.
"If you are for local decision-making and local democracy, then you need to stand up and have your say. We as a Council can and will make a submission but the people need to be heard as well."
Submissions close on 26 July and need to be made to the Local Government and Environment Committee at Parliament.