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Hutt residents can only be disadvantaged under a Wellington super-city, says Mayor Ray Wallace.
“We have one of the lowest debt and rates rises in the region – and that is projected to remain the case in future,” he says. “This year’s rise is tipped to average 1.8 per cent, while on average the other councils in the region will exceed this.
“Some councils are carrying heavy debt levels, and any amalgamation will only saddle Hutt ratepayers with debts inherited from, and for the benefit of, others. Realistically I don’t see how Hutt ratepayers could be insulated from such heavy increases if they were lumped in with other ratepayers in the region.”
Mr Wallace says the old adage, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, could well be applied to local government in Hutt City.
“The Government has indicated it wants local authorities to be more efficient, to stop borrowing so heavily and to stick to the basics. We’re already doing that and are on track to get debt down to $45 million by 2015.”
One reason being promoted for amalgamation is a more regional and co-ordinated approach to service delivery, but this is already being addressed through joint committees of council and council-controlled organisations, some of which carried out region-wide operations in conjunction with other councils.
“The water infrastructure company Capacity is a good example of what collaboration between councils – in this case, Hutt City, Upper Hutt and Wellington – can achieve. This council-controlled organisation has produced significant efficiencies since it began operating eight years ago. In that time, Hutt City has saved $270,000 a year on the cost of delivering water services”.
“Moving forward a more “collaborative” shared services model is one option residents could consider given the good success to date. Another option for change to local government structures could be to disestablish Greater Wellington regional council.
“Independent consultants have calculated that if all council’s, including Greater Wellington regional council, were to integrate their water activities under the Capacity model, the region’s ratepayers could save as much as $5.1 million annually.”
Mr Wallace says the case against a super-city is not just about the extra cost to the residents. A big casualty would be local democracy. “The voice of small communities is sure to be lost in a super-city. This council works closely with local communities and responds to community concerns well. I have grave doubts such responsiveness could be achieved under a super-city council structure.”
Hutt City Council will not be standing still says Mr Wallace. “Our commitment to cutting costs and increasing efficiency continues. It has long been part of how we operate – and it’s one reason why we are the only local authority in New Zealand to receive a Gold Award for Business Excellence.”
Mr Wallace says he, like other mayors in the region, will be consulting on a number of possible governance options for the city and seeking community feedback.