Water continues to cause concern around the region. I have had some 500 emails calling for our Council to reject the Government’s Three Waters reform package. Oddly, not a single email in support.
Incidentally, I use the term Three Waters rather than Three Water as someone pointed out would be more linguistically correct, because that is the term Government use. I am no linguist to debate the rights and wrongs of it.
Around the country we have had Councils vocalising concern over the honourable Mahuta’s reform. Hawkes Bay Mayor’s want to keep the reform in-house. Most of the South Island Mayors have been consistent with the view that it is not currently something that will work for them
In fact some Christchurch Councillors have called for the resignation of the honourable Mahuta
Unlike Nelson City Council, that had a Mayor and a CEO on the working party for the 3 Waters Reform, Tasman voted to send a message that we were unlikely to support the reform in its current form.
What is wrong with where Minister Mahuta is taking the reform?
Firstly, we have to ask if New Zealanders want gold plated 3 Waters systems. Or are we mostly happy with the provision of water that sometimes has a pipe burst, or very occasionally (like once in my lifetime) may put people’s health at risk. Yes, there are places that haven’t delivered as well as they could have, and we can all do better. But would you rather that or a gold plated solution that only the elite few can afford to drink from or flush away?
That is the first question that should have been consulted on. Because when we look at the satisfaction survey that Tasman polls the ratepayers with the overall satisfaction of our water supply service is 86% our Wastewater is at 98% and our Storm water is at 93% positive satisfaction levels.
The next issue with the 3 Water Reform is that it is delivering on the Government’s He Paupau agenda, which is something that was never campaigned on and certainly never consulted on. It will see the Maori interests gain a 50% and controlling share (as a 75% majority of stakeholders is required for a decision) of the Governance of all future 3 Water delivery.
Just like all New Zealanders, Maori have contributed to the establishment of the current Council controlled infrastructure. Just like all New Zealanders they have a say in who is elected to Council and like all New Zealanders can run for Council. In recent years they have had even more say as Council has to consult with Iwi (usually prior to the general ratepayer consultation) over any significant decision. But now, we are told that half the board members of the new entities controlling the 3 Waters will be Iwi appointed. Some have suggested that this is not democracy as their representation far out-ways their population.
Representation in the new entities is sparse enough for the general ratepayer without race based representation. It is likely that the three Council’s in the top of the South Island would have one appointed (non-elected) representative between them. Good luck getting a hold of them to pitch your case on a local issue, and then seeing how much voice they have at the next board meeting.
Centralisation will lead to a greater example of what we have now. With only so much budget, and so many staff hours, decisions will have to be made on how to best spend their money. Obviously, they will start with projects that deliver the most bang for buck – that is that which benefits the greatest number of people. In our case that would most likely be addressing the woeful Wellington water situation, just as Richmond currently gets projects brought forward with regular monotony because of the great gains we can make by combining projects or working with developers (sorry Tapawera, Murchsion, Ngatimoti, Collingwood).
Deliverability of the gold plated 3 Waters package is about as likely as Kiwi Build providing 10 000 new houses, or Auckland getting light rail or a harbour cycle bridge, or Ardern reducing child poverty (as something she did campaign on). There is physically not the availability of engineers or contractors in the Country to deliver the reform in any kind of timely manner.
And all of that would depend on someone funding the work. Some suggest that the new entities should be paying market rates for the infrastructure. I have news for you, they have no money, they just have an ability to borrow money – you the water user will be paying for the purchase and all the horrendous amounts of interest generated from the borrowing to pay you the ratepayer for the assets. On top of that the huge debt that will be racked up to upgrade the services to a gold plated standard.
Even more scary would be the thought that the Council whom have dug us into the best part of a $300 million hole would be given a large portion of the money back to lose it all over again! Meanwhile you are liable for both amounts.
Finally, let us also speak of the fact that NONE of the models we are basing the 3 Waters reform on have a 3 Water system. At best they have a 2 Water system that excludes Storm Water. The Storm Water component from the Government showed a complete lack of understanding of how it would work in the draft workings presented to Council to date. Many of our Storm Water infrastructures are currently managed in the Parks and Reserves space, others are connected to the roading network, and many flow paths are designations across private property.
There is nothing about another level of bureaucracy that screams efficiency and better levels of service or better delivery. As one of the emails submitted by a high ranking local fire officer suggests, when FENZ was created under the auspices of greater efficiency we have actually ended up with 50% cost increases and, at best, no improvement of service over the old rural and urban fire brigade system.
However, the 3 Waters Reform is just one of the many examples of your rights being diminished by this Government. The honourable Boyack took great pleasure in informing Councillors in attendance at a recent Resource Management Act reform workshop about how NIMBYs would no longer halt progress on the grounds of loss of “amenity” values. The new Act has no provision at all for amenity. Amenity being things that you value about where you live, like peace and quiet, nice views, village feel and the like.
Again, good luck getting local views represented by the new system of appointed commissioners hearing all plan changes and subdivision consents etc.
Many other rights are being stripped from you as you read this. Some under the banner of COVID response, others just because we can, most from agenda’s that were never campaigned on much less consulted on.
Tasman District Council is also definitely experiencing a lot of positive change this term. Frequent bouts of COVID have sidelined councillors even more than before, and under these emergency regulations the Mayor and CEO assume control. The rest of us, especially those on the back benches, get to enjoy extended bouts of no contact and no input into Council business.
The tough part is the transition back into the business as usual phase when restrictions lapse. Letting go of the new power structure seems difficult for some.
When we were in the middle of signing off on the 2021 LTP I noticed that Council was advertising for a new deputy CEO. I found this interesting as I didn’t recall we had signed off on this position. I was informed that it had been presented to Council under the proposed new structure some months earlier. It can’t have been highlighted very well as I wasn’t the only Councillor that it came as a surprise to.
When I questioned how we could fill a position without the budget to pay them (it was apparently in the LTP) which I pointed out had not been signed off, I was told if they had to they would accommodate it within the existing management budget. At the time, I questioned how the budget could have that much fat in it, but was assured it would be accommodated.
Fast forward a few months and we get a report stating that the “Corporate overhead activity had a deficit of $152, 000” which includes Coporate, Finance, Operational Governance, Property, Office Overheads, Human Resources, Project Management Office, and Executive.
So in the handful of months since signing off on the LTP our governance budget has gone from having enough money to fund a deputy CEO from existing budgets, to being $152, 000 over the new budget. Given that I am sure the deputy CEO is on a remuneration that is likely well North of $200, 000,especially if you also take into account the staff that are needed to assist the new position, then we have managed to “lose” more than $350 000 in a few months.
We are told that the Project Management is largely to blame for the deficit and that much of it will be recouped by the time the Government’s spending up on projects with unspent COVID funds from the first round is completed. What they aren’t telling us is how much unattributed money the dam is costing us. We consistently have numerous staff working on dam related matters that is billed as “overheads” and are not tagged as dam related. This will only dramatically increase if 3 Waters negotiations are required.
Do not forget that we also have a need to house our ever increasing staff numbers. Despite the CEO telling me that the move of a number of staff to the office above the mall was a temporary measure and they would shrink back to the Council building once renovations were carried out it was only a few months later that we were told we needed even more staff space. After I insisted that we have a proper review of the situation it was decided nothing short of a complete rebuild or new building would suffice.
Even knowing this they refused to allocate any budget in the LTP and the auditor turned a blind eye to the glaring deficit in funding required in the next ten years ( I pointed it out to him twice).
But, it is ok. The Mayor, the deputy Mayor, and Councillor Wensley who make up the CEO review panel decided to take it upon themselves to give the CEO a well deserved pay increase. Once upon a time the review panel would make a recommendation for Full Council to decide on in relation to the CEO’s pay. Now they make a decision and it appears as a line item in the Mayor’s report with no further decision needed.
At a time when so many ratepayers are struggling with the effects of COIVD it doesn’t seem like a sensitive move to up the pay on the CEO. It also seems odd that a performance adjustment is made when the workload has dramatically decreased, given that the job description of the deputy CEO appears to assume a fair amount of the responsibility once assigned to the CEO.
With Mike Scott, CEO of the dam company, further reminding us that they at the “upper limits” of the previous cost blow out contingencies on a dam far from complete the pressure on rates is going to be extremely uncomfortable for many. Some in Council are hanging their hat on the 3 water reforms by the Government going to be the golden ticket to solve all our money problems. I hear from members of the community that some Councillors and staff think it is as good as a done deal and they have already spent the Government’s windfall. The deputy Mayor thinks that debt won’t be a problem because of the 2% interest rates that are going to continue for the next ten years.
I pity all those loading themselves up with huge debt in the current housing market to get into their first home. Especially those in this region. A more-of-the-same Council has no intention of keeping your rates down.