News & Events
Government giving mixed messagesFriday, 20 July 2012
The Government is giving mixed messages around its proposed local government reforms, Southland District Council Mayor Frana Cardno said. "Central Government has slammed local government for rating too highly and going outside its core business. It has introduced sweeping reforms which, if passed, will take away communities' say on what councils do and will give that power to Government and the Courts," Mrs Cardno said.
"Government is saying these reforms will bring about more accountability and result in lower rates, as councils will only be able to spend on core business.
"But in the next breath, Economic Development Minister Stephen Joyce is saying local government has to let the handbrake off and allow economic development. Mr Joyce says in a media story this week 'when it comes to economic development it's about managing the risk," she said.
Mrs Cardno agrees with Mr Joyce that Council has an important role in the economy and development role and she strongly encourages Mr Joyce to talk to his colleagues and ensure that the purpose of local government is properly defined in the proposed legislation.
Risk includes the possibility of losing money, which, in the terms of local government, is ratepayers' money and where does economic development fit into the proposed new purpose under these reforms of infrastructure, public service and regulatory functions.
Mrs Cardno also cited Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee's comments about rating Southland large property owners more to pay for the road funding cuts recently announced as another mixed message from Government.
"On one hand Government is saying we rate too highly and are inefficient, but then on the other hand we should rate some ratepayers more.
"It makes no sense, but then neither do these reforms," she said.
The statement in the proposed changes that "local government must make sure that any proposal it undertakes is the most cost-effective for households and businesses" means Council will be in court arguing over people's definition of most cost-effective," she said.
"This bill is over the top and is a shoot from the hip reaction by Government over a couple of problem councils. If I was to be cynical it is also an attempt to move media interest away from national issues to local government," she said.
"Southland District Council has worked hard to ensure our local communities make the decisions on what is needed in their areas and these reforms will change that. The vast majority of Council's expenditure is on core services - roading, water, sewerage and stormwater. We have no debt and we are extremely fiscally prudent."
Mrs Cardno is extremely worried about the proposed removal of the four wellbeings - economic, environmental, cultural and social - as this changes the whole purpose of local government.
"These wellbeings are what we as Council are here for - to look after our communities in these four areas. Government doesn't do it and so local government needs to be there.
"There is no evidence that the wellbeings have caused what the Government calls a blowout in local government costs and in fact, the Government is exaggerating this "blowout" as the majority of councils are being fiscally sound."
The Shand Report identified infrastructural spend was the reason for increased rates and debt, and this was reinforced by the second infrastructural report from Treasury in 2010.
"Government also introduced a bill in 2010 to control local government spending so are they now saying that was ineffectual or they actually found out that there is not a problem? In fact, I have not seen any evidence from the Government to show how these changes would make savings in rates. We strongly believe these changes will do the direct opposite as more and more costs will fall directly on households.
"We are hearing a lot of rhetoric from the Government with not much substance."
The proposed changes to the local government purpose statement will present a high risk for the community and threaten local government's ability to play a vital role in promoting the wellbeings of its communities.
"A focus merely on infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions lack an appreciation for the many dimensions that make up a community," she said.
Mrs Cardno is calling on Southland ratepayers and residents to tell the Government what they think about this legislation.
"If you are for local decision-making and local democracy, then you need to stand up and have your say. We as a Council can and will make a submission but the people need to be heard as well."
Submissions close on 26 July and need to be made to the Local Government and Environment Committee at Parliament.
If you would like to make a submission to the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill you can find more information here.
Who to contact
If you would like to discuss a matter on this page, feel free to contact us:
Southland District Council
P.O. Box 903
Phone: 0800 732 732
Fax: 0800 732 329