Date: 27 June 2014
The Local Government Commission has completed a stock take of its work on reorganisation of local authorities and issued an update on timeframes for each proposal.
The Commission is considering three reorganisation proposals after receiving applications from councils and community groups in Northland, Hawke’s Bay and Wellington regions.
The Commission Chief Executive Donald Riezebos said each proposal is at a different stage of the process.
“It is a timely opportunity for a public update,” Mr Riezebos said.
“The Commission has appreciated the efforts made by many individuals, groups and local authorities who have participated in the processes so far. It has heard a wide variety of ideas and suggestions for the ideal structure of local government in each region.
“It is important to provide an update on the Commission’s work programme to ensure the public is kept informed about the next stages of the processes.
“The Commission has consistently advised councils to maintain a ‘business as usual’ approach to their functions and activities while these processes are underway,” Mr Riezebos said.
The Commission completed public hearings of submissions on its draft reorganisation proposal on 30 April 2014.
Commissioners held public hearings and also met hapu/iwi/Maori in ten locations throughout Northland over 15 days. Almost 200 people spoke to their submissions and many raised ideas and questions for the Commission to consider further.
The Commission is now analysing the submissions and feedback from the hearings, and may undertake further inquiries and consultation with other groups if required. It then has four options:
The Commission is still considering these options. It anticipates that if a final proposal or a new draft proposal is to be issued, further work would be required on a number of issues. In relation to a final proposal, the Commission would need to first satisfy itself there is likely to be demonstrable community support for such a proposal in each affected district.
The Commission also noted that the regulated period for the 2014 general election commenced on 20 June 2014.
The regulated period has implications for election advertisements and campaign expenses under the Electoral Act 1993 and the Broadcasting Act 1989. The Local Government Act 2002 (clauses 29 to 32 of Schedule 3) also prescribes requirements for advertising in relation to polls on reorganisation proposals.
The Commission will avoid issuing any proposal, either final or draft, during the regulated period for the 2014 general election. It wishes to minimise the risk of voter confusion if the general election and a local government reorganisation poll were conducted in close proximity to each other.
In addition, the Commission is concerned to avoid possible ambiguity or uncertainty over the rules for advertising and expenses if a local poll was conducted during the general election campaign period.
Commissioners completed public hearings on submissions on the draft reorganisation proposal for Hawke’s Bay on 12 June 2014.
The Commission is now seeking further discussions with stakeholders including a number of hapu/iwi, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and neighbouring territorial authorities in Taupo and Rangitikei Districts.
These include further inquiries in relation to representation arrangements for Maori, as well as the boundaries for water catchment management and communities of interest. The water catchment issues affect landowners in territorial authorities which currently lie both inside and outside Hawke’s Bay Region.
The Commission anticipates the further consultation will occur during July and possibly August, after which the process will be similar to that for Northland, discussed above.
The Commission has devoted considerable time and resources to its consideration of a preferred option for local government structures in the Wellington Region.
Commissioners and commission staff have held close to 100 external meetings in the past year. These include public meetings and question and answer sessions, discussions with councils and associated community boards, consultation with hapu/iwi, with applicants and alternative applicants, the Public Service Association, major commercial or business groups, community groups, and relevant central government agencies.
It has also commissioned several pieces of analytical work from external consultants which focus in detail on the performance of the existing nine local authorities, including:
The Commission is also awaiting further analysis and advice on a number of specialist areas. These pieces of work will address:
In addition, the Commission has sought legal advice on issues relating to governance options and the funding of public transport services. It has drawn on a number of specialist reports regarding legislative requirements for unitary authorities and regional councils and for infrastructure efficiency.
Detailed analysis has also been required in an effort to reconcile conflicting reports produced by some of the original applicants.
For example, separate costings were supplied by the Wairarapa Governance Review Working Party and the Greater Wellington Regional Council regarding the financial viability and sustainability of a unitary authority for Wairarapa.
The Wairarapa report suggested the unitary authority would have a starting deficit of $2 million, while the regional council report estimated the deficit for a Wairarapa unitary authority could be as high as $11.2 million.
Given the scale of the proposals, the Commission has invested significant effort into understanding and advancing the issues behind proposed reorganisation. Once it has completed the necessary work, the options open to the Commission will be to either:
The Commission is close to a decision on its preferred option. However for reasons discussed above, it will not issue any proposal during the regulated period for the 2014 general election.
The Commission wishes to preserve the important distinction between public participation in governance arrangements for local authorities and participation in central government electoral processes.