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Hawke's Bay council amalgamation vote: Family looks out for family

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Contributor:
Matt Harman
Matt Harman

I voted against amalgamating the Hawke's Bay councils. Not because the status quo is working, not because a cohesive approach to planning and economic development isn't needed - but because as a Hastings resident, I just couldn't do it to Napier.

84% of Napier voters turned out to vote 'No'. The 16% that didn't were either thinking very long term, or perhaps could have looked at the numbers more closely.

In the 2014 year, Napier collected almost $47m in rates, which averages out to $2017 per household (of course some of the rates collected actually came from businesses). That $47m represents 56% of total council operating revenue.

Hastings by comparison collected over $64m from ratepayers, or an average of $2317 per household. That $64m, was 71% of total operating revenue - making them much more dependent on ratepayers to cover the bills.

The difference per household, per year - $300, or 15%.

While that discrepancy wasn't going to be tackled immediately if amalgamation happened - any council would have to look at it eventually. As someone with family and friends in Napier, I just couldn't stomach their rates going up, to effectively subsidise Hastings and the other Hawke's Bay councils.

There's a lot of talk about debt levels being the big difference between the Hastings and Napier, but I suspect the real driver is something more fundamental - Napier is a compact (some would say 'perfectly formed') city of 542 people per square km.

Hastings is a very roomy 14 people per square km. Wairoa is in a different league again, with 1.9 people per square km - not just enough room to swing a cat, but maybe even shoot a moderately sized cannon without fear of hitting anyone.

If you need to do things like build roads, water and waste systems - the more compact the area you have to cover the better. It's an advantage that Napier has that there is just no getting around.

Which gets to the nub of the issue - selling amalgamation always required selling Napier residents on the idea. The benefits for the other regions are obvious - for Napier, much less so.

Instead most of the pro-amalgamation effort seemed to go into trying to get Hastings residents to vote yes - which they did, but not to the extent expected. I don't really know why that was, but I like to think we were collectively looking out for our neighbours and thinking beyond ourselves. Perhaps an approach our five local councils might like to embrace.

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Matthew Harman is a Co-founder of Fuseworks Media the Founder of Digital Advance, publisher of this website.

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