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Changes put decision-making back to local councils

Local Government changes put decision-making back to local councils.

Accountability to residents and ratepayers should emerge as new legislation is passed.

The Local Government Amendment Bill has now been passed by Parliament and contains both potentially good news and potentially bad news for ratepayers and residents.

First the potentially bad news. Most comment so far on this legislation has centred on the possibility of 'privatisation' of water - and there are some initiatives which will see more freedom for councils to approve new expenditure without referring to the community.

Most ratepayers will welcome the reduction in formal public consultation which has placed significant costs on council operations - especially as there have been constant complaints that residents views, presented during consultations, were regularly ignored on a whole range of issues.

Formal consultation will still be required on Annual Plans and on significant issues such as the disposal of strategic council assets.

The changes will put pressure on elected members to get out into their electorates to ascertain the views of their communities - within the new Auckland Council this pressure will go onto Local Board members who, under the SuperCity legislation, are specifically required to engage with their communities.

The introduction of a pre-election financial report is another innovation which ratepayers should use to hold elected members to account, and to quiz candidates on their stance on the financial plan for following three years

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Ratepayers are expecting that substantial economies of scale will be achieved from the re-organisation of Auckland local government - leading to a halt to rising rates or, at least, increases to be no more than the rate of inflation.

In the rest of the country some councils will need to establish clear avenues of communication with ratepayers to replace the over-prescriptive consultation process which has now been abolished.

The challenge is for councils to manage their financial affairs in a transparent way and ratepayers should be prepared to take every opportunity to hold councillors and board members to account.

The new legislation offers the opportunity for councils to finally face up to the real issue of finding alternatives to rates as the main source of council income.


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