Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Point of Order: Mahuta invites local bodies to queue up for a portion of Three Waters funding

Hard on the heels of announcing further humanitarian support for Afghanistan (to the tune of $6 million), Nanaia Mahuta was preparing to dole out big bucks on the home front.

The humanitarian aid was announced in her capacity as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Yesterday, as Minister of Local Government, she announced that councils can now apply for the first tranche of funding from the Three Waters Reform Package to invest in their local communities

The Department of Internal Affairs has issued guidance to councils on the application process. The first tranche of $500 million of funding will be available from 1 July.

Unallocated money will be rolled into the next tranche, which becomes available on 1 July 2024, when the four publicly owned Water Service Entities are established.

Never mind the small matter of the need for Parliament to pass legislation, the Water Services Bill, to create four publicly owned water entities to take over responsibility for three waters services from local councils.

The only other ministerial announcement since Point of Order last reported on the buzz from the Beehive came from Transport Minister Michael Wood

He visited the flood-damaged Tairāwhiti region to view progress on restoring vital connections for the area’s isolated communities.

He was joined by local Ikaroa-Rāwhiti MP, Meka Whaitiri, Mayor Rehette Stoltz and representatives from Ngati Porou for a blessing of the Managhauini Bridge before it opened for light traffic.

The bridge had been closed ten days earlier after an abutment was washed out, leaving a gap of approximately 16 metres in the road.

There was nothing in the press statement to indicate whether the bridge had been blessed when it was first built and/or the need for a blessing. Will this afford some protection against future flood damage?

Mahuta’s invitation to councils to dip into Three Waters funding coincided with a discussion (a somewhat one-sided discussion in mainstream media) of the special role of Maori tribal leaders in the Three Water reforms.

These reforms have triggered a debate around the appropriateness of a Treaty-based co-governance arrangement to manage storm, waste and drinking water services.

But for now, Mahuta was arguing about the need for change rather than the need for co-governance:

“For far too long, Councils have had to offset difficult decisions about funding water infrastructure and services against other important initiatives, with water infrastructure often coming out second best,” Nanaia Mahuta said.

“Councils are facing significant challenges over the coming years; with population growth, housing pressures, an increase in natural disasters and climate change, it is important that Councils are able to prepare their communities for the future.

“As well as saving ratepayers money in the long term, the Government’s reform programme will enable councils to focus on the wellbeing and aspirations of their communities. This “better off” funding can be used for those projects communities feel they need the most, be it local parks and gardens, swimming pools, libraries and community centres, or investment in public transport and infrastructure to protect against extreme weather events and sea level rises.”

Applications are open until 30 September for councils to submit funding proposals for their share of this first tranche of funding.

The terms around the use of this funding are set out in the Heads of Agreement negotiated by Local Government New Zealand last year.

Mahuta referred to estimates that $185 billion is needed to fix, upgrade and maintain New Zealand’s water services over the next 30 years, to ensure that critical water infrastructure is maintained.

Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton.


Anzacjon said...

It will be interesting to have a report on which councils apply for Funding!

razza said...

Cancel Commissioners!!
Helicopter money or sugar money - either way you look at it - the Minister for local government supported by the PM has got her way albeit deviously. Just when we thought the three waters were on the back burner or hold, oh no they are not! The government is offering up the same funding they were to purchase all the local councils water assets.(60+ councils not wanting to opt in). See the DIA site "Better Off Support Package". The $2 billion package and God knows where that will come from is split into two payments - first 500 million available from 1 July 2022 and the remaining 1.5 billion available from first of July 2024. In Tauranga's case (48 million) where I live, the first allocation of 12 million can be drawn down on 1st July 2022 and the second allocation of 36.3 million in July 2024. The allocation of this Crown funding was originally intended for the purchase of council's three waters assets. Now the minister says all councils can access these funds and spend them on almost anything. In Tauranga's case which is under Crown administration having four commissioners appointed by the Minister of local government. These commissioners have taken it upon themselves to redevelop the downtown central part of the city with a new council building, a new library, a museum and what they are calling a community hub. This is all being promoted with propaganda booklets etc calling for "It's time to get the heart of our city pumping". What was the budget /spending for this exercise? The commissioners are promoting two options for their proposal, option one comes with an estimated cost of 303 million with no confirmed funding line; option two which is keeping the status quo in a modified form has an estimated cost of 127 million which is fully ratepayer funded. Putting aside personal views of the redevelopment on the Tauranga Peninsula, I questioned the commissioners chairperson Ann Tolley at a public meeting on 5th April 2022. "If the commissioners were to go with their preferred option one of 303 million for this redevelopment would they be accessing the funding from the three waters giveaway". She confirmed "yes" that would be the case with no confirmation of how much. The commissioners have no mandate whatsoever to be looking at this extravagant expenditure for the city when infrastructure that is more aligned to a council's role and certainly needs addressing for future generations to come. However remembering a public referendum on the three waters reforms was disallowed for all councils by the minister and therefore the Tauranga ratepayers did not have an opportunity to opt in or opt out of the three waters reform. I suggest that if there were a referendum held in Tauranga there would be an overwhelming "no" to these reforms. The bottom line as I see it is the commissioners are in complete support of the three waters reform by taking bribe money from central government. There will be a clause somewhere in the funding agreement that a commitment to the three waters reform by councillors/commissioners be part of the bribe. The commissioners claim the development downtown Tauranga is up for public consultation. This has to be a con and as I see it already a done deal. Unfortunately the Tauranga ratepayers once again are not only misled but misrepresented by government bureaucrats. Our democracy has definitely been cancelled with no immediate resolve. The marxists have been implanted in Tauranga from Wellington.
Sometimes you just can't win.
Ray Stevenson, Retired Engineer, Tauranga.