Council is now starting the initial work on the 2024-34 Long Term Plan, and when you consider the inflationary pressure that’s dominant at present, combined with all the district’s projects and the increasing requirements our various communities request, it’s not hard to predict the next 12 months are going to be challenging and potentially costly.
I highlight this predicament in context, because no matter what comes out of the LTP process, it will pale in comparison with the minefield of unpleasant options on the table around where our district gets shackled with the Three Waters reforms.
These reforms have been a never-ending saga, full of subplots, villains and more twists and turns than Shakespeare would have ever created. But now we are getting to the climax, those last few chapters where all will be revealed and as it presently stands for Clutha this is going to be a tragedy.
It would be easy to point fingers, to go back decades and scrutinise why particular decisions were made.
Hindsight makes geniuses of us all, but there is one constant dominating theme that has dictated past decisions and will heavily compromise our options in the future.
That is the fact that our district is a huge landmass with many small townships, each triggering their own infrastructure needs, and collectively we lack the critical urban population that is required to cover costs.
We have the third-longest water reticulation network in New Zealand.
We have 11 sewage and 15 water plants and compared with virtually everywhere else in the country we don’t have the rateable units.
This is the genesis of the reforms.
The original proposal wasn’t invented by Minister Mahuta because she was bored; Prime Minister Ardern didn’t want it as a conversation starter. This is an issue that has been brewing for over a generation.
DIA worked through the options and promoted the most palatable version.
Then the meddling started.
For all intents and purposes Minister Mahuta is no longer involved directly with the reforms; the PM has shot the gap.
All those irrelevant distractions, other than cogovernance, have faded away but the dirty great elephant in the corner — how do we fix this mess? — remains.
At a recent Otago mayoral forum we were presented with an analysis that was not tabled as an exacting science but definitely is a best estimate trajectory.
It showed that if Clutha kept its three waters department in house our average urban household would pay $20,080 a year by 2054.
Please don’t let that long-off date anaesthetise your concerns because there are other estimates that have the figure over $9000 in 10 years’ time.
As a society and definitely as a district, we need to seriously consider the social and financial ramifications that inevitably will manifest in a significant and, for many, life-changing manner.
To everyone that has got swept up in the sideshows that sprang from these reforms I ask you to please consider how your actions have now influenced the lives of many pensioners and vulnerable families, and how, if you continue to the end, you will play your part in the financial demise of many people.
We have one more chance to rectify the situation, with our most likely saviour being a return to the original plan of one entity for most of the South Island but it’s a long shot because no matter how many times we scream the warning there is a small but noisy group that is missing the big picture.
Sorry to be so blunt but I’m getting sick of screaming.