Three-water reform: Hamilton City Council not yet to apply for government funding

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The council decided to postpone a decision on government funding for the “better off” of the Three Waters. Photo/Tom Rowland

The government’s three-water reform is approaching faster than many would like and Hamilton City Council has just put its foot down.

The board has decided not to proceed with an application for announced government funding until the government provides clearer answers to the financial questions.

In July last year, the government announced $2.5 billion in funding to help New Zealand councils through reform. The money is split between a $500 million “no worse” allocation for transition costs and $2 billion of “better off” funding.

Hamilton’s potential share of the funding is $58.6 million, of which $14.6 million is available this year and the rest in 2024. However, councils must sign an agreement with the government before receiving the money .

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Hamilton has until September 30 to sign an agreement to receive the first tranche of funding.

At a board meeting last week, the board debated whether to start considering developing projects with already $14.6 million or whether to postpone a decision on funding.

The council decided to postpone the decision until the government provides answers and the council has time to consider the public submissions.

The council said the government had not yet provided certainty on the costs associated with the reform that could affect Hamilton’s financial situation.

Councilors noted other unanswered questions, including the exact extent of assets and responsibilities that are to be transferred to new water service entities, and how the government will calculate the amount of council debt to be transferred to entities.

Another unanswered question is the shortfall between Hamilton’s projected transition costs and what the government has indicated it will provide.

The board asked staff to continue discussions with ministries to get financial questions answered and report back by the September deadline.

Meanwhile, the council’s three-water reform consultation enters its final week with residents able to have their say until Thursday.

The council has assessed the first 330 community submissions that indicate Hamiltonians, like councillors, are divided on reform.

Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate says the range of views in the community shows how important it is for people to have a say.

“I am delighted that people are responding, and early indications are that we are getting a range of views that highlight the complexity and breadth of the reform proposals. These comments will be used to inform our return to central government” , she says.

The assessment of early responses showed that respondents feel the reform has more national than local benefits for Hamilton.

Respondents are also more likely to agree that reform would lead to better environmental outcomes, but are polarized on whether reform will lead to better drinking water quality or greater investment for growth or housing.

However, the board emphasizes that the above data is only preliminary and subject to change as more submissions are received.

People have a little more time to give comments to government directly at the closing of its bids on July 22.

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