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Local Government Commission - Update 29 April 2014

Greetings and welcome to the latest Local Government Commission newsletter. The newsletter provides information and updates relevant to the work of the Commission. It focuses on local government structures, performance and good practice generally.

REORGANISATION PROPOSALS

Since the Commission’s last newsletter the reorganisation proposals from Northland and Hawke’s Bay have proceeded through another stage. The public submission process is complete. Many submissions were in the form of photocopied pre-written coupons, while others contained detailed commentary about an ideal model for local government arrangements. Hearings in Northland are drawing to a close and the Commission is about to embark on a similar round of hearings in Hawke’s Bay.

Northland

Commissioners and staff are undertaking their sixth week of public hearings in Northland and have clocked up the kilometres as they travelled widely throughout the region.
When hearings draw to a close later this week, Commissioners will have visited Whangarei, Kerikeri, Kaitaia, Kaikohe, Mangawhai, Waitangi/Paihia and Dargaville. The Commissioners also travelled to more remote places, such as Kaeo and the heart of the Waipoua Forest, to hear from local iwi and hapu at their offices and marae.
The Commission released a summary of submissions in February. Common themes raised by submissions included:

  • Is the scale and geographical variation of the proposed district or region too large?
  • Is there potential for lessened local input and access to councillors?
  • Communities of interest - differences were highlighted between the rural and the urban.
  • The powers of community boards – how do community boards compare to local boards and district councils, how much responsibility and funding can they oversee?
  • Maori involvement – is it either not enough recognition or too much ‘special treatment’?
  • Future levels of service – how much cross-subsidisation would be needed and would Whangarei end up paying for less affluent areas?
  • Future debt and debt management options – some councils may have deferred maintenance that will lead to debts in future, will Whangarei have to pay others’ debts?
  • Rates - should they be based on land value or capital value?

Hawke’s Bay

The Commission released a summary of submissions in early April. Key points included:

  • Questions about cross subsidisation within and between areas.
  • Proposals relating to the ring-fencing of debt and regional assets including the port.
  • Arguments for and against the importance of regional leadership for Hawke’s Bay.
  • Possible alternative options including shared services and greater collaboration.
  • The need for comprehensive and integrated regional planning for transport and economic development, and for eliminating duplicated functions and barriers to growth.
  • The distinctiveness of communities of interest, the importance of local autonomy and the perceived risks of centralisation.
  • The level of representation for council and boards, common membership of council and boards, the role and powers of community boards or local boards.
  • Provisions relating to service centres. This included questions about the services to be provided, the location of council headquarters, the timing and responsibility for this decision and the option of retaining facilities in both Napier and Hastings.
  • The size of area proposed for one council and the perceived remoteness of Wairoa. There were also suggestions about the role of technology to address issues of distance.
  • The importance of the role of the current regional council, particularly in natural resource management, and possible alternative arrangements for regional functions.
  • Support for and opposition to provisions for Maori representation.
  • Issues relating to the impact on areas of Taupo and Rangitikei Districts currently in Hawke’s Bay Region, and the regional boundary with Bay of Plenty.
  • Transition issues including membership and role of the transition board.

Public hearings in Hawke’s Bay will get underway in May. After the hearings the Commission may carry out other investigations and inquiries so that it has enough information to make a decision.

The Commission has four options for Northland and Hawke’s Bay: issue the draft proposal as a final proposal; modify the draft proposal and issue it as a final proposal; issue a new draft proposal based on a different preferred option for local government in the region; decide not to issue a final proposal at all.

Wellington Region (including Wairarapa)

The Commission is continuing to analyse information from a wide range of sources as it determines reasonably practicable options and its preferred option for the Wellington Region.

OTHER REORGANISATION APPLICATIONS

Nelson Tasman

In late February the Commission released its decision on an application to reorganise Nelson City and Tasman District. The Commission declined to assess the application. In effect, the application did not proceed through the first stage of the reorganisation process.

North Rodney

The Commission will shortly be considering its response to the application for the Northern Rodney area, currently part of Auckland, to form a separate unitary authority.

ASSOCIATED WORK OF INTEREST

From time to time the Commission receives Official Information Act requests from councils, their lawyers or other interested parties seeking more background information on the decision-making processes around reorganisation. As the Commission holds a quasi-judicial role it is not subject to the OIA, nevertheless it endeavours to provide as much information as is practicable or readily available.

For example, it recently produced a factsheet explaining the legislative requirements to develop reasonably practicable options and a preferred option as part of the reorganisation process.

Requests for such background information will be responded to individually and where appropriate will also be published on the Commission’s website to ensure transparency.

TOPICAL ISSUES

Auckland Council

The performance of Auckland Council and its 21 Local Boards since the 2010 reforms has been the source of much comment by groups making submissions to the Commission this year.

While the unitary authorities proposed for Northland and Hawke’s Bay are closer to the unitary councils which operate in Gisborne, Nelson, Tasman or Marlborough, the Commission appreciates the Auckland model is still of great interest to many people outside Auckland.

New information from Auckland Council this month provides an overview for those following the debate. The report by the Council’s Finance and Performance Committee states:

Improved economies of scale from the amalgamation of the eight local authorities have helped Auckland Council maintain services at reduced cost…..average rates increases have reduced year on year from previously anticipated rises while capital works are nearly double that of the former councils.

Annual operating savings to June 2013 were $131million and are budgeted to be $188million by June 2018. Savings have come from benefits including simpler and better information technology; better purchasing and tendering processes; bringing more work in-house to reduce reliance on external resources; reducing the number of office buildings.

REMEMBERING FORMER COLLEAGUES

Commission staff took time during March to remember two predecessors from the 1940s, F.B. (Frank) Stephens and J.F.D. (Dud) Jeune. Frank was the Commission’s first secretary in 1947, equivalent to the CEO, and Dud was his replacement. Both men were killed in a plane crash near Waikanae in 1949 while returning from representation hearings in Auckland.
March 18th marked the 65th anniversary of the tragedy, which killed 13 other passengers and crew. The crash of the Lockheed Lodestar was New Zealand’s worst civil aviation disaster till a crash on Mt Ruapehu in 1963.

Before working for the Commission Frank advised the Savage-Fraser government on public administration and local government reform. Dud was the clerk and engineer at MacKenzie County Council, based at Fairlie. Dud served in France during WWI and helped with post-war reconstruction in Germany after WWII, as part of a United Nations mission.

This report is from The Dominion on 21 March 1949:

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