All together now?

The head of the Waikato Chamber of Commerce wants to spark a debate on the 35-year-old local government boundaries in the province.

The last local government reforms introduced a regional tier, male-dominated borough and county councils disappeared and Waikato was populated with a city council and a host of district councils.

Getting agreement to merge is often dfficult and in 1989 required the intervention of the Local Government Commission under the chairmanship of Brian Elwood. Photo: Fauxels, pexels.com

It brought neighbours like Te Awamutu and Cambridge together, but left Ōtorohanga and Te Kuiti separate.

In a memo in the latest chamber newsletter Don Good poses the question: has the time for the amalgamation of the Waikato’s territorial authorities arrived?

Don Good

“We have a cost of living crisis, people will struggle to meet the forecast rise in rates – and businesses are frustrated by the artificial lines we have pencilled across our region,” he said.

“Most Waikato councils are close to their debt ceiling and experiencing a downgrade in their viability. They are also facing really big costs to ensure their core services and infrastructure do not break.”

Debt ceilings are an issue discussed on page 13 (Cambridge) 9 (Te Awamutu) in Peter Nicholl’s regular column.

Greater Waikato is governed by its regional council, Hamilton City Council and 10 district councils – Franklin, Hauraki, Thames-Coromandel, Waikato, Waipā, Ōtorohanga, Waitomo, Matamata-Piako, South Waikato and Taupō.

It’s no secret that some Waikato and King Country councils are already looking at the logistics of amalgamating.

Waitomo mayor John Robertson in a column in the King Country News last month said of his council and neighbour Ōtorohanga “we are substantially the King Country, Maniapoto… so why are we governed by two councils?”

He said amalgamating was considered 20 years ago – “it is surely time to consider this option once again”.

Time has also caught up with some boundaries – part of Hamilton is in the Waipā district.

When a government-commissioned Future for Local Government review panel presented a restructure plan in the middle of last year it was tipped to be a general election issue. It wasn’t and has barely rated a media mention since.

But as councils roll out long term plans with huge rate rises over the next three years, the debates are likely to occur.

Good says the chamber is hardly the biggest fan of centralisation, but adds there needs to be some rationalisation across the Waikato to get costs down.

Saying “bollocks” as one old Waikato leader did has not worked. The rate rises are proof of that. It is time for a change.”

He said voters were frustrated by a duplication of bureaucracy, the differences in rules, the lack of efficiency and speed in delivering services and the number of “dumb initiatives that annoy voters, such as the raised roads at intersections”.

“It is time to look at how amalgamation can be implemented.”

Mergers for local councils are back on the agenda. Photo: Rene Asmussen, pexels.com

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