Guru says rushed water meters sap public confidence —
accuses Council staff of ‘Bogeyman’ ploy
By Cr K Gurunathan
( Cr Gurunathan, Cr Church and Cr Lloyd voted against water meters — Ed)
Council’s decision to go ahead with the introduction of water meters and volumetric charging without a full electoral mandate is a serious blow to the spirit of democracy.
While I fully support the introduction of water meters and volumetric charging, this should not be forced upon our communities when there is such unprecedented public opposition.
This triennium’s new council had a mandate to put water meters back on the table for discussion. But, given the significant opposition, councillors do not have a mandate to introduce it unless this policy is tested through the next local government elections.
The evidence and responses provided by KCDC staff, following two rounds of public consultations, show metering has merit. It will especially benefit the 67 percent of residents in single and two-occupant homes. Ratepayers will also benefit from the deferment of $36m in capital projects.
Councillors must respect public opinion
However, while elected members have a responsibility to make evidence-based decisions, we are also required to make prudent political judgments. Throughout this process, public opposition to water meters has escalated.
Unfortunately, rational evidence-based debate has suffered from the impact of other negative issues – some would say council bungling – over the projected costs of the aquacentre, civic building, Otaki mainstreet and especially the CEO’s pay rise.
Public dissatisfaction has reached levels I have never seen in my 16 years of covering local government politics. Because of these stuff-ups, our communities are questioning council’s costings, projections and benefits that underpin the introduction of meters. They don’t trust council’s figures.
An example is Kapiti Grey Power. With more that 6,000 members, it is the district’s largest social organisation.
Grey power concerns
Grey Power’s submission said it “…believes there are potential benefits in the introduction of water meters for low water users.”
But it went on to say there were unanswered questions and concerns…“Concern that the validity of Council facts and figures should be addressed by a peer review or independent audit”. On the vexatious question of leaks the submissions asked: “Can the community believe the figures being presented?”\
Given this widespread lack of community confidence in council’s data backing the introduction of meters, an independent audit or peer review is critical.
We have the ability to ask Local Government New Zealand to create a panel of experts to do this. I have raised this matter with Mr Malcolm Alexander CEO of LGNZ. He said it could be possible if a request was made by council.
We also have the ability to put KCDC’s case for metering before the expert advisory group that the Government proposes to create under its ‘Better Local Government’ reform. Mr Anthony Moss, manager of Internal Affairs Department’s policy group, which is framing the terms of reference for the expert advisory group, told me this group may be able to consider this issue.
KCDC ‘Bogeyman Clause’
While I am confident KCDC’s rational would stand such scrutiny, KCDC’s staff position has been that council cannot afford to wait.
In strategic parts of the staff report, rationalising the introduction of meters, there is what I call the 2015/16 Bogeyman clause. An example from paragraph 77: “A decision must be made this year in order to allow time to implement a solution which avoids any extended breach of the resource consent by 2015/16”.
(Issued by the regional council, this consent limits the quantity of water that can be extracted from; the Waikanae River alone, from a combination of river and the Waikanae bore field, or from the bore field alone. The limit is 23,000 cubic metres per day.)
I want to challenge the reality of this Bogeyman:
1) The 2015/16 Bogeyman was based on a median population growth projection. Since 2008, and definitely into the next three years, the growth has, and will continue, to track well below the median projection.
2) Council’s own graphs on peak consumption show that when council imposes water restrictions and calls on our communities to reduce demand, there is an immediate, significant and laudable drop.
3) A previous council under Mayor Alan Milne had invested in a $14m backup. A bore field consented to pump up to 23,000 cubic metres per day for at least three months.
4) I doubt that the summer of 2015/16 or the next will see severe droughts.
5) Lastly, the risk to public confidence in the democratic process, posed by council proceeding without an electoral mandate for the introduction of water meters, is greater than any risk posed by projected breaches to the resource consent.
So the 2015/16 Bogeyman is actually the proverbial Emperor with no clothes!
We have to make the time to engage with the community and be prepared to test council’s rationale for metering through the next local body elections.
We have 16 months to do this. We cannot and should not force it on the people. If we do, we lose our credibility in a larger democratic issue. We cannot tell others not to impose a Supercity on us without our democratic consent.