The Ashburton District Council won’t be muzzled by receiving $4.19 million in the Three Waters ‘better off’ funding.
Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown said the council will continue to oppose the Three Waters reforms, in its current form, but didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to receive valuable Government funding.
“It’s money that is lying on the table and if we didn’t take it we won’t get the opportunity again,” Brown said.
“Three Waters is legislated now so, under this government, it is happening but we can still voice our opposition.”
The funding will go towards getting additional projects completed without an impact on the ratepayers, he said.
The council submitted seven projects for the first tranche of the Government’s Three Waters Reform support package, termed better off funding.
The council tried to include an amendment to the agreement that confirmed the council can maintain its opposition without risking the funding.
Chief executive Hamish Riach said the Department of Internal Affairs didn’t accept it or any of the proposed changes to the funding agreement.
He said the DIA did acknowledge that signing the agreement in the DIA’s required format does not restrict councils from independently expressing their views on the reform programme.
“These comments from DIA give council clear confidence that we can oppose the reforms in their current form, while accepting the better off funding for the benefit of the community,” Riach said.
The funding approved by the DIA includes $2.3m to help relocate Ashburton’s rail freight hub from the centre of town to the soon to be under construction Fairfield Freight Hub at Fairton.
That covers the council’s contributions towards the $14m project being led by the Wareing Group, which also has a $2.5m Government contribution from Waka Kotahi’s NZ Upgrade Programme.
Council business support group manager, Leanne Macdonald, said the projects had to meet certain criteria to qualify for funding, which included it couldn’t be used on Three Waters projects or projects already budgeted for in the annual or long-term plan.
Macdonald said now the funding has been approved work on the projects will begin, and the DIA will monitor their progress and manage funding.
The council is eligible for a further $12.6m of better off funding in the second tranche, earmarked for 2024.
The council will also receive $437,000 of transition support funding to assist with the Three Waters transition work it is required to do.
- By Jonathan Leask