Water needs decisiveness

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JOHN.COSGROVE
@cluthaleader.co.nz

The country’s 70 local and regional councils’ storm water, freshwater and wastewater operations may soon be absorbed by one of four entities, as announced by the Government last week.
These entities would absorb all the debt and Three Waters services managed by these councils.
Not all are keen on entering into the new agreement, and several councils nationwide have already hinted they will opt out of the proposed scheme.
Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan, chairman of a group representing Otago and Southland’s 10 city, district and regional councils, said the decisions of other councils would play into Clutha’s and the group’s decision-making.
Christchurch City Council in particular would be a ‘‘huge determinant factor’’ in the decision, he said.
If Christchurch opted out of the reforms then the rest of the South Island would likely drop below the ‘‘critical mass’’ required for the reforms to be effective.
Mr Cadogan said it was great councils were finally starting to get the critical information they needed to make informed decisions on the issue, but still more was needed.
The decisions the council were facing over Three Waters reform were the biggest he had faced in 20 years in politics.
‘‘We’re only about 100 days from having to vote on this and, in between, we’ve got to do our due diligence, we’ve got to engage with the ratepayers, and we’ve got to decide which way we are going to go as a council.’’
A major strand of the Government’s case for the changes was financial.
Its report says, without reform, households within the southern entity’s boundary would pay an average of $4970 a year for Three Waters, in real terms, by 2051. If the overhaul goes ahead, that figure is reduced to $1640.
Mr Cadogan said, before the end of the year, councils would be offered a further round of funding towards Three Waters infrastructure upgrades, but could take it only if they were opting in.
‘‘Whether you are in or out, you have to get up to the new water standards. The only difference is, if you’re out, you get up there on your own, you don’t get any help.
‘‘That would be a financial impediment to our ratepayers.’’
All councils wanted to get into a better bargaining position as their decision to opt in or out approached, Mr Cadogan said.
While pundits were debating whether Christchurch would opt out of the reform package, Mr Cadogan believed the Christchurch City Council was in the strongest bargaining position in the South Island for a share of the next round of precentralisation funding.
‘‘The ramifications for all of us if Christchurch is ‘out’ far outweighs the ramifications if Clutha was out.
‘‘Let’s say [Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta] has $1 billion [pre-reform funding] to sort the South Island with.
‘‘If she doesn’t get Christchurch, she doesn’t sort us out.’’