Valid petition, poll date for Wairarapa District Council

The Local Government Commission has received confirmation of a valid petition for a poll on its proposal for a Wairarapa District Council and a postal vote will be held closing at midday on Tuesday 12 December.

Commission chair Sir Wira Gardiner said that the Commission was pleased to receive the petition and confirm the poll will go ahead.

“This is a significant proposal for local government arrangements and should have the mandate of the people of the Wairarapa if it is to proceed. There will now be a poll on whether there is a new combined Wairarapa District Council, and that is good for local democracy,’’ Sir Wira said.

“Having an outcome on the proposal in December will also give the people in Wairarapa, and in particular council members and staff, certainty about their council arrangements as they go off for their Christmas break.’’

A successful petition required the signatures of 10 per cent of registered electors from any one of the three districts and today Mr Lampp, the electoral officer for the district, confirmed that the required 1,832 for the Masterton district had been validated.

Postal ballots will be sent out three weeks ahead of the poll closing date and preliminary results can be expected late on the same day, 12 December.

If 50 per cent or more of ballots from across the Wairarapa oppose the proposal, it will not go ahead and there is no further action. The local government arrangements for the Wairarapa remain as they are now, with three separate district councils. If more than 50 per cent support the proposal it goes ahead and we will start the process of setting up a new combined Wairarapa District Council.

“When the ballot papers begin to arrive in mid-to-late November, we encourage people across the community to participate in the poll and help shape the future of the Wairarapa,’’ Sir Wira said.

 

What happens next

From 20 November: Postal voting documents sent out

12 December: Poll closes at noon and preliminary results released later that day

12 December: If the poll rejects the proposal, the process halts and the status quo remains

Early 2018: If the poll endorses the final proposal, a transition body will be formed. This would include representatives of the three current Wairarapa councils

October 2018 (at the earliest): Election of the new council. This will have an initial four-year term to bring it back into line with the three-yearly election cycle

October 2022: Council election as part of the usual three-yearly election cycle

What is proposed – in brief

  • A new council is proposed, called Wairarapa District Council. It would replace the existing three district councils: South Wairarapa District Council, Carterton District Council and Masterton District Council.

  • The new council would have a mayor and 12 councillors. The mayor would be elected by voters across the Wairarapa district and councillors would be elected by voters in seven wards, including two rural wards.

  • There would be five community boards: Featherston, Martinborough, Greytown, Carterton and Masterton. Each board would have four or five elected community board members.

  • For at least its first term, the new council would be required to have a rural standing committee and a Māori standing committee as a means of promoting effective council representation for rural communities, and marae, hapū and iwi respectively.

  • The new Wairarapa District Council would be a territorial authority. The Wairarapa would remain part of the Wellington region with the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) continuing its current roles and responsibilities. There would be a new Wairarapa Committee of the GWRC to strengthen Wairarapa input into regional council issues affecting the district.

  • For at least five years, the new council would be required to maintain area offices in Martinborough, Carterton and Masterton. Staff would continue to be located in area offices to ensure people can access council services across the Wairarapa. The address for service (“principal office’’), for the new council would be Masterton.

The final proposal can be viewed at www.lgc.govt.nz. Copies are also available on request to the Local Government Commission at info@lgc.govt.nz; or by phoning 04 460 2228.

The process so far

May 2013: Application for unitary council for the Wairarapa from Wairarapa councils

June 2013: Application for unitary council for the Wellington Region (including the Wairarapa) from the Greater Wellington Regional Council

December 2014: Commission publishes draft proposal for unitary council for the Wellington region including Wairarapa

June 2015: Following submissions and hearings, the Commission decides not to proceed with proposal, but to return to communities to discuss other options for change

February 2016: Public engagement – Commission holds public meetings to develop six options for local government change in the Wairarapa

June 2016: Wairarapa councils, Greater Wellington Regional Council and the Commission obtain an independent assessment of the six options

June-July 2016: Public engagement – drop-in sessions, public meetings and surveys to gauge public views on the six options

July 2016: Publication of summary of public feedback – a majority of people prefer a combined Wairarapa District Council

August 2016-March 2017: Further work on detail of possible combined Wairarapa District Council

15 March 2017: Commission releases draft proposal and calls for submissions

3 May 2017: Submissions close

4-10 May 2017: UMR conducts survey of Wairarapa public

23 May-6 June: The Commission conducts submissions hearings

19 July:  The Commission issues a final proposal for a Wairarapa District Council

 

Questions and Answers: final proposal for Wairarapa District Council

Q: Why is this happening?

A:  The application by the three Wairarapa district councils for a Wairarapa unitary council (performing the roles of both the regional council and the district councils) in May 2013 triggered a formal reorganisation process. It was quickly followed by an application for a unitary council for the entire Wellington region from the Greater Wellington Regional Council. Because the two applications overlapped, the Commission considered them as one reorganisation process.

Q: What happened to those applications?

A: In June 2015, after consultation on a region-wide unitary council, the Commission decided not to proceed with the ‘super-city’ proposal. Instead it decided to return to the community to consider other proposals for change. This proposal for a Wairarapa District Council is a result of nearly two years of community engagement and consultation, supported by expert analysis.

Q: What happens in the rest of the Wellington region?

A: The release of a draft proposal for the Wairarapa in March 2017 was the end of the formal reorganisation process for the rest of the Wellington region. The Commission is working on a concluding report of recommendations for the region’s councils to consider on some of the issues that led to the ‘super city’ proposal, including the transport and integrated/spatial planning. This report is due out in late 2017.

Q: Has there been local input into the proposal?

A: The Commission worked closely with Wairarapa local government leaders and the community in developing the options for local government, tested them with data agreed by councils, and conducted public surveys to identify the option most preferred. A draft proposal emerged from that consultative process. The Commission sought and considered submissions on the draft proposal and commissioned a further independent opinion survey of the Wairarapa before issuing the final proposal.

Q: How can people have a further voice?

A: By voting in the poll.

Q: What is the process for electing a new combined council?

A:  If the poll supports the proposal, a transition body comprising a transition board, an interim chief executive and an implementation team would oversee transition arrangements for the formation of the new combined council. The first election of the new combined council will take place in October 2018 at the earliest and will sit for an initial term of up to four years before returning to the usual three-yearly election cycle.

Q: Would there be job losses?

A: The structure and staffing levels of the Wairarapa District Council would be largely determined by the new council. There would likely be some senior management redundancies reflecting the fact there would be one council instead of three.

Q: What would the rating system for the new council be?

A: The Commission’s proposal requires that the current rating arrangements would remain in place until the new council and the community have had the opportunity to consider any changes. If there are any changes due to merging the three councils rating systems together, then these changes are capped at 5 per cent in any one year until at least June 2024.

Q: How would the new council take account of different council debt and asset levels?

A: Targeted rates for wastewater services would be ring-fenced so that ratepayers would continue to pay for only for the scheme to which they are connected until at least June 2024. If any additional debt commitments were made before the new council was formed the Commission would consider similar arrangements.

Q: Where would the new council’s head office be?

A: The Commission has not determined whether there should be a head office. The Commission considers that the new council is best placed to make decisions about where staff are located and where council meetings are held. The Commission has decided that the address for service for the new council is Masterton, but this does not have to be where most staff are located or where council meetings are held.

Q: What would be the advantages of combining the councils?

A: The full list of advantages and disadvantages are set out in the Commission’s final proposal which can be found at www.lgc.govt.nz. These include: less red tape for Wairarapa businesses, sport, arts and community groups; better council decision-making and advocacy for the Wairarapa as a whole; a council with better financial resilience, more effective delivery of infrastructure, more scope for specialist staff and modest financial savings.

Q: Are there some disadvantages?

A: The full list of advantages and disadvantages are set out in the Commission’s final proposal which can be found at www.lgc.govt.nz. These include: the change process could be unsettling for some council staff; there would be fewer councillors than at present, which could mean councillors are less visible and less accessible; reduced representation on regional committees and forums; and the transition costs would slightly outweigh the savings for the first two years.

Q: Could the new mayor be from anywhere in Wairarapa?

A: Yes

Q: What would the community boards do?

A: The detailed terms of reference for the community boards are to be recommended to the Commission by the transition body in consultation with the community, but in essence their role is the provide leadership in empowering local communities to determine local issues associated with their areas. The boards would not be responsible for infrastructure or regulation. These responsibilities would be managed by the district council.

Q: Can there be changes to local government arrangements in the Wairarapa in the future?

A: If the proposal is successful at a poll and goes ahead, then a prohibition on reorganisation applications for the Wairarapa district would come into force until 31 October 2024. This period is to give the new council a chance to bed in. After 2024, the normal legislative provisions for changing local government arrangements apply.  If the proposal is not successful, then a further application can be made at any time.