Three Waters reforms find little favor with majority of mayor candidates

A survey of all 291 mayoral candidates shows that there is little love for the government’s reforms in the Three Waters.

Local Democracy Reporting’s 2022 poll of mayoral candidates also shows that when it comes to this year’s interest rate hikes, the residents of the cities are more dissatisfied with them than those in the provinces.

Of all the questions asked in the survey, including about climate change, Maori divisions and tariffs, the one about Three Waters received the most clear answer.

When asked whether the reforms were the best way to make the investments much needed in water infrastructure in many regions, 75.3% answered no.

Comments on answers were often in capital letters or accompanied by exclamation marks.

The opposition was even more grim, comparing the North Island candidates to the South Island, with only two of the 58 South Island candidates (3.4%) supporting the reforms.

Southland Mayor Gary Tong was one of those two lone voices.

He said that while they were needed, “so much misinformation has arisen due to a lack of early information from the cabinet.”

Those seeking top jobs on councils in key centers were slightly less vocal in their opposition: 63.5% said the reforms would not achieve their goals and the rest were split almost evenly between yes and not sure.

“Wellington is a prime example of why reform of our Three Waters is needed,” said Paul Eagle, Wellington Mayor and Labor MP.

The city has a list of required water infrastructure solutions, after decades of underinvestment.

Eagle is one of only two candidates, out of nine, to support the reforms. He said he was “focused on working with central government to ensure Wellington can continue to repair our pipes”.

Those who asked for your vote this year were much more evenly divided when it came to this year’s rate hikes.

When asked if they thought they were fair, 43.5% said yes and 44% said no.

Candidates in urban areas were slightly more critical (51.3 not fair) than those in the provinces (42.2 not fair).

Comparing municipalities is of course a difficult exercise and how fair a municipality’s rates are depends almost entirely on the scale of those in previous years and how high they already are compared to other municipalities of similar size.

As with most incumbents, Ashburton’s Neil Brown defended his district’s 9.4% increase, one of the highest in the country, saying that lower rates mean lower service levels.

Bruce Graham, who hires long-standing Clutha mayor Bryan Cadogan, said this year’s 4% increase should actually be higher because rates were kept artificially low.

The survey was sent to all 291 mayoral candidates and received 202 responses, representing a response rate of 69%.

Conan Young, Local Democracy Reporter

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ On Air.

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