Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mike Butler: Hastings resists amalgamation

As decision time looms with the proposal to merge the five Hawke’s Bay councils into one super council based in Napier, a new group has formed in Hastings to fight amalgamation. Hastings Against Amalgamation is holding an initial meeting at the Havelock North Community Centre on Tuesday, February 24 at 7pm, to plan the next step should the Local Government Commission opt to proceed with amalgamation.

That next step is to collect around 4400 Hastings signatures to trigger a poll on the issue.

As a bit of background, a group of wealthy business people under the banner of A Better Hawke’s Bay started pushing for amalgamation about two years ago by letter-boxing a colour brochure throughout the region.

Although this group gave the appearance of a grassroots desire for change, the emergence of a similar group in Northland at the same time sparked speculation that local government amalgamation is a central government plan that would lead to the privatisation of local government assets and increase in local government debt.

The Auckland councils amalgamated on November 1, 2010. Amalgamation there:

 Hiked rates by 8 percent in the first year. (1)
 Increased debt by 30 percent in year one.
 Set up powerless local boards.
 Set up a Maori board that produced a $295-million spending plan for Maori.(2)

Amalgamating the five existing councils in Hawke’s Bay into one super council with five local boards and a Maori board all based in Napier is likely to:

 Increase rates.
 Increase debt.
 Replace Hastings’ 14 councillors with six councillors and nine local board members.(3)
 Introduce a Maori board and race-based spending.

The proposal from A Better Hawke’s Bay two years ago envisaged a unitary authority with one mayor elected district-wide, 16 councillors (Hastings six, Napier six, Wairoa two, Central Hawke’s Bay two), and five community boards (Hastings, Napier, Wairoa, Central Hawke’s Bay, and rural) with five members on each, and a five-member Maori Leader’s Forum.

The Local Government Commission presented a draft proposal for amalgamation in Hawke’s Bay and invited submissions that were presented in June of last year.(4)

That proposal envisaged a unitary authority with one mayor elected district-wide, nine councillors elected from five wards (Hastings, Napier, Wairoa, Central Hawke’s Bay, and Ngaruroro), five community boards (Hastings, Napier, Wairoa, Central Hawke’s Bay, and Ngaruroro) with a total of 37 elected members, and a Maori board.

Submissions showed a high degree of opposition, with 83 percent against.

The commission produced a position paper last November with a revised scheme.

That envisaged a unitary authority with one mayor, 18 councillors elected from five wards (Hastings six, Napier six, Wairoa two, Central Hawke’s Bay two, and Ngaruroro two), five local boards (Hastings – nine elected, two appointed; Napier – nine elected, two appointed; Wairoa – six elected, two appointed; Central Hawke’s Bay – six elected, two appointed; and Ngaruroro – seven elected, two appointed), and a Maori board, presumably appointed.

Quite striking in this increasingly complicated arrangement is the appearance of appointees acting as representatives. There are 10 appointees on community boards as well as the entirely appointed Maori board. The questions are who is doing the appointing and who do these appointees represent?

Other more basic questions include:

The Local Government Commission predicts transition costs of around $19-million which would bring annual ongoing savings of around $10-million from year five.

Transition to a Hawkes Bay Council as proposed by the Local Government Commission is viable with a payback period of around four years. Table 6 shows that annual ongoing savings build to around $10-million from year five, requiring transition costs of around $19-million. (5)

Undiscounted gains over thirty years are expected to total $260-million.

Savings gains totalling $10-million comprise: Corporate personnel (37 percent of total) corporate other (30 percent, activities opex (14 percent), activities capex (9 percent), governance costs 6 percent) and audit costs (4 percent).

Information technology is expected to cost $12.6-million.

Redundancy cost were unstated in the transition cost report

In Auckland, staff cost savings came from a combination of: reduction in staff, unfilled vacancies and filling positions at lower rates of remuneration. Around $80 million in staff cost savings were associated with $27-million in redundancies. Redundancy costs were therefore around 33 percent of staff cost savings.

A $4-million budget over 12 months is assumed for a Hawke’s Bay transition body.

14. Why is this being pushed now? What is the urgency?

The commission also stated an intention to survey 2000 residents across Hawke’s Bay, and parts of Taupo and Rangitikei, to gauge support for the revised position, arguing that the 83 percent opposition found in submissions only represented 1 percent of residents.

That survey is taking place around now.

According to the November 2014 position paper, the commission is expected soon to release its position regarding existing council debt and how this should be treated in an amalgamation. The Hastings District Council external debt is from $55-million to $79-million depending on whose figures you rely on, and Napier, $4-million.

By the end of March, the commission will decide whether to issue a modified draft proposal as the final proposal, largely reflecting the Nov 2014 position or if deciding not to issue a final proposal, will instead issue a public notice, and the re-organisation process in Hawke’s Bay would cease.

If a modified draft proposal is issued, residents have 60 days in April and June for 10 percent or more of affected electors in the district to demand a poll Around 4400 signatures would be required for Hastings.

If no valid petition is received, the final proposal would be implemented by an order in council establishing a transition body with an interim chief executive to prepare the required scheme.

But if a valid petition is received, a regional poll would be held after any successful petition from July to September.

We would know if the regional poll supported or opposed the final proposal by October.

If it supported the final proposal, then this would be implemented by an order in council establishing a transition body as detailed above.

If it opposed amalgamation, the re-organisation process would cease and the existing councils would continue.

While the other three mayors are all anti-amalgamation, Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule is a very vocal supporter of amalgamation and the Hastings District Council is spending around $50,000 to convince Hastings residents to back him. However, whether Hastings residents support amalgamation remains unknown.

This issue should go to a regional vote. The starting point for a vote is a petition calling for a vote. Around 4400 Hastings signatures are required to trigger a poll on the issue. A total of 5000 signatures could be collected by 50 people each collecting 100 signatures.

While organising this group I have not found a single person who supports the proposal to absorb the councils of Hastings, Napier, Wairoa, and Central Hawke’s Bay, plus the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, into one super council with five local boards, and a Maori board, with the headquarters in Napier.

For those living in Hawke’s Bay, your say is critical. Find out what you can do to help by coming to the Havelock North Community Centre on Tuesday, February 24 at 7pm (admission free) or by visiting

1. Super City Project, Auckland University of Technology,, p39
2. Brewer slams Maori plan as unrealistic, NZ Herald, September 4, 2012.
3. Hawke’s Bay Position Paper.
4. Draft Proposal Hawke’s Bay.
5.Report to Local Government Commission on Hawkes Bay transition costs, November 6, 2014.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful analysis, Mike. It is yet another example of PDF (pseudo-democratic facism)that is creeping through NZ at all levels of government. Like your Hawkes Bay example, on Auckland's North Shore, where I live, I have never found anyone in favour of the Super City. We didn't get a chance to vote for or against it. You might. Beware Hawkes Bay folk!

paul scott said...

I see that David Seymour is giving some time to the local Government system at the ACT conference. God knows how he can explain away the Auckland deal.
Down here in redneck territory we have an idiot Christchurch Council, and our rates will climb. Frankly I just wish we could get Roger Sutton to run the whole show

Peter said...

Such amalgamations are a case of combining unrelated factions. Rural farmers need roads and water catchment facilities are being expected to fund city toilets.
In Otago, local councils were expected to pay for a stadium in Dunedin. Without being coerced into this the Dunedin nightmare would never have been built. Now, the Dunedin city taxpayer is landed with the cost of paying for the maintenance of a white elephant.
When Oamaru residents criticized a $10 million revamp of their Opera House (by the CEO's sister no less); they were ignored by the mayor and council. When the mayor was voted out, the new encumberant was lumbered with the decisions of a previous mayor.
It appears that Hastings' mayor is now pushing for amalgamation to have others share the city's debt.
Its time to slow down on amalgamations. Unity may have worked for Auckland (or has it?); this was a case of cities being united. The same may not work for rural and urban areas.
Yes, rural dwellers do get to use city facilities; but urban dwellers also drive on country roads and use waterways. They benefit from agrarian prosperity. When the farmer goes to town he benefits the town by supporting their shops.
Even in small councils there is devisiveness between councils and ratepayers. To quote local example, Oamaru ratepayers were forced (by Local Government Act) to pay for a $12million water upgrade. The mayor loaned farmers $10 million or more for a costly irrigation scheme. He cited benefits to the town. The farmers have not paid the loan back; but have returned to council for MORE money for an enlarged scheme.
In both cases the allocation of monies was not an election issue. The council did not raise these matters until after they were voted in. Only then did they have the temerity to say 'you voted us in; you accept our decisions'!
No, we voted for them on the issues they ran on NOT the issues they had kept quiet about.
If banks wouldn't loan the farmers money why did the Council? Declining dairy profits may see this becoming a futher burden on the urban ratepayer.

Slow down on amalgamations. They cost a lot. We have yet to see if they do/will benefit us all. Let's take these matters to the polls and make sure it is truly a democratic move. Its the only way to find out if it IS what the majority want.

Anonymous said...

I believe if all of greater Auckland were asked to vote on amalgamation or reverting back to individual borough councils I would say amalgamation would loose. Amalgamation together with the Resource Management Act is just an excuse for bureaucrats to charge like a wounded bull.

Anonymous said...

As a retired Drain layer I am appalled at the ACC Resource Management charges for Subdivisions with so called state of the art septic tanks and there renewal charges (for what) every 15 years of $3,500.
Briefly you would be aware living in a rural area of how septic tanks have served the population for hundreds of years with disposal of S.... by a weir formation out into the ground and tanks being emptied once every 5, 10, or 20 years later.
The so called new ACC state of the art septic tank system is only different in that it has two pumps that shift the S...... from one chamber to another & then finally pumps the S.......... out into the ground.
The cost of management of these new septic tank systems are of concern to batch owners because an engineer has to service these tanks every 6 months even tho people may use the batch only two to three weeks per year.
There is also a cost from Auckland City Council $... & annual costs vary but approx engineers costs are $250 p/a that is without replacing a pump & I have had two replaced in 10 years at approx $1,000 plus each time.
There are 8 of us in our beach with new state of art septic tanks & we were visited by an officer of the ACC who sent each of us a letter of demand for amounts varying from $450 to $850 for his time inspecting each property.
The reason ACC officer gave for the different charges was for answering phone queries from aged beneficiaries, emailing, & faxing time a total of approx $3,300 an average of $550 each.
The ACC officer unknown qualifications stated we all had to shift our disposal drainage 20 meters from the road as we were only 10 meters even tho we all had s/tanks with completion certificates by Franklin City Council.
The outcome was we all had a meeting and told the ACC there horrendous charges would not be paid and finally another ACC officer listened to us and reduced their charges to $100 each still to high but a better result.

My concern is for batches or holiday homes owned by aged beneficiaries through out New Zealand & Councils interpretation of Resource Management Act which allows them to play god and charge like a wounded bull.
There is nothing wrong with the old proven septic tank without two pumps that disperses the S........... out of the septic tank by gravity into field tiles set in a weir formation that do not require expensive annual servicing.
As an owner of several properties I am appalled at the threatening demands by officers in authority that are pushing the price of property so high it is out of reach of our grandchildren unless they build in the bush.