1. What process is followed by the Commission?

The main stages of the reorganisation process are:

  • receiving and processing an application

  • deciding whether there is community support for reorganisation

  • seeking alternative applications

  • determining a preferred option

  • preparing a draft reorganisation proposal

  • seeking the views of the community and interested organisations

  • finalising a reorganisation proposal

  • notifying a final proposal and allowing time for a petition to seek a poll on the proposal

  • if the proposal goes ahead, developing and overseeing a reorganisation scheme

2. How does the Commission make its decisions?

The Commission follows guidance contained in Schedule 3 of the Local Government Act 2002.

The Commission uses publicly available material produced by councils themselves. This includes annual plans, annual reports, pre-election reports and long-term plans. It seeks specialist advice and analysis from outside experts. It seeks briefings from stakeholders and interested parties in each region. It can host public meetings throughout the areas affected.

The Commission is focused on promoting good local government that benefits local people, communities and businesses. The Commission will explain why particular decisions were taken. At each stage in the process the Commission assesses whether there is community support for some sort of change.

3. What input do communities have?

At each stage of the reorganisation process there are important tests of community support for change.

The original applicants must demonstrate there is community support in each of the affected districts for some sort of change. It does not have to be a majority support.

When the Commission is satisfied an application meets all the tests it will issue a public notice and seek alternative applications. The public can then submit alternative ideas.

As the Commission narrows down its preferred option it can engage with the community through public meetings or seek the advice of groups representing community interests.

If the Commission decides its preferred option is some sort of reorganisation it will release a draft proposal and call for public submissions.

After receiving submissions the Commission can hold public hearings where submitters get a chance to speak in a public forum.

After analysing the submissions and other information the Commission decides whether to issue a final proposal for reorganisation. It must be satisfied the final proposal is likely to have community support.

Local communities can demand a poll (vote) on a final proposal. A petition signed by at least 10% of electors in any one of the affected districts will trigger a poll. The vote is taken over the whole of the affected area. If the Commission’s proposal is not supported more than 50% of those who vote, it will not go ahead.

If the proposal does go ahead the Commission prepares a reorganisation scheme with details of the transition to the new structure. Members of existing councils are appointed to transition bodies to help with the changeover. They will ensure there is local input during the transition.

4. Can the Government force reorganisations?

No. All applications received by the Commission during 2013, the first year under the new process, came from people or organisations in the local areas - Northland, Hawke’s Bay, Wellington and Wairarapa. All but one of the applications came from local authorities themselves.

The first test applied by the Commission is whether the applications have community support. The Commission then consults widely before issuing a draft proposal.

The 50% plus-one test for a vote on a final proposal is a comparatively high threshold and is known as an absolute majority. It is higher than the threshold required for election of mayors, councillors and Members of Parliament. They are required to gain just one vote more than the next highest-polling candidate.

In addition, the outcome of the vote is binding. It carries greater weight than citizens initiated referenda, where the results are indicative only.

The Minister of Local Government does have some power to issue directions to the Commission. The Minister can direct the Commission to complete some work within certain timeframes, or to give one reorganisation application a higher priority than another. Any such direction must be in writing and must be made public.

5. How will reorganisation affect Maori representation?

One of the key principles of local government, enshrined in law, is that local authorities should provide opportunities for Maori to contribute to decision-making processes.

The Commission does not have the power to recommend standalone Maori wards or constituencies. Each local authority already has that power. Local authorities must conduct a poll on Maori wards or constituencies if requested through a petition signed by at least five percent of electors.

The Commission can however recommend other structures to ensure the views of the Maori population are heard. This could include standing committees (permanent council committees) or advisory boards. Such structures are especially valuable when a local authority is dealing with resource management issues.

6. Do the Auckland Council reforms in 2010 show reorganisation leads to increases in rates and staff numbers?

No. In the move to a single rates system in Auckland, 122,000 ratepayers had increases and 220,000 had decreases. The average rates increase for the year from July 2013 was 2.9 percent. Auckland Council capped increases at 10% during transition to the new system. Auckland Council has 1,350 fewer staff (full time equivalents or FTEs) than under the previous legacy councils. At June 2013 it had 8,074 FTE staff across all Council agencies, compared to 9,430 FTE under previous arrangements. At the same time it has also shifted from using contractors to making greater use of in-house staff.

The new Auckland Council is regarded by some as still a ‘work in progress’. It focused on the major regional issues in its first term, such as planning and transport and embedding the new structure. Auckland Council is also addressing significant historical under-investment in infrastructure. The new Auckland Council is a unitary authority, which is a well-tested model in the New Zealand context. Several unitary authorities have existed in other parts of the country for some decades: Nelson, Tasman, Marlborough and Gisborne. The Chatham Islands Council is also effectively a unitary authority, with the powers and functions of both a territorial authority and a regional council.