Strong rural voices needed

12/07/2013

Waitaki mayor Alex Familton’s decision to not seek re-election after earlier saying he would seek a thrid term.

This has opened up the District’s mayoral race.

Until now only one serious contender, former deputy mayor Gary Kircher, had announced he would contest the mayoralty.

But now the sitting mayor is standing down people who weren’t prepared to challenge him, including the current deputy, Jim Hopkins might stand.

Alex was a farmer and the council is losing another rural voice.

Corriedale ward councillor Kevin Malcolm has also announced he’s not standing again.

Our ward has two councillors but the other one, Geoff Keeling stood down earlier this year, and the council opted not to replace him.

It had the right to do that given the proximity of elections but it has left the council one rural voice short.

Property based rates impose much higher costs on farms.

We pay a greater proportion of rates but there are fewer of us which makes it even more important to have strong rural voices on councils.

But Keeling’s resignation and Malcolm’s decision not to seek re-election were both largely due to the difficulty of balancing council commitments with work and family.

Those pressures will be on the minds of others who might seek to stand and no-one could blame them if that puts them off.

 

 


Canterbury too big for one council

10/10/2012

ECan commissioners have recommended that a unitary authority be considered for Canterbury for the 2016 elections.

I’m supportive of the idea of unitary authorities in general.

Separate city or district and regional councils add costs and layers of bureaucracy which could be reduced if their functions came under one local body.

But Canterbury is too big and diverse for a single council.

The size of the existing regional council, dominance of Christchurch and distance from it has always been problematic for people in that part of the Waitaki District which comes under ECan, it would be even worse under a single authority.

The Waitaki River has long been a physical and social boundary between Canterbury and Otago, but there could be a case for combining the Waitaki, Waimate and Mackenzie councils as a unitary authority.

It might need Timaru as well to give the numbers and rating base for a viable council and that would provide a reasonable urban/rural balance.

The districts north of the Rangitata River could unite to form another unitary authority with Christchurch.

Two unitary authorities might work, one over such a large area with so many disparate concerns and issues would not.


Sun set, sun rise

15/05/2011

The 2010 Agriculture return showed small increases in sheep and dairy cattle numbers, deer remained stable and beef cattle numbers dropped.

Favourable weather conditions with no major lambing losses helped the national sheep flock register a small increase in 2010. The national flock had 32.6 million sheep, 180,000 more than in 2009. This increase follows drought-affected losses of 1.7 million in 2009 and 4.4 million in 2008. The increase in 2010 occurred in the South Island, which had a total of 16.5 million sheep. The North Island number was stable, at 16 million.

Favourable weather with no major lambing losses? What about the blizzards in Southland and cold, wet weather in the lower North Island?

The lambing percentage was 127 percent in the year ended 30 June 2010, after recovering from the two previous years.  This level was last recorded in 2006.

Ah – this return isn’t for the calendar year but the 12 months to June so it’s 2009’s lamb drop not last year’s.

Between 2009 and 2010 the national dairy herd increased by 50,000 to 5.9 million. In 2009, the dairy herd had increased by 280,000, and in 2008 by 320,000.

“The 2010 increase occurred in the North Island, which had close to 3.9 million dairy cattle in 2010. Unlike in recent years, the South Island number did not increase in 2010, remaining at 2.1 million,” agriculture statistics manager Hamish Hill said.

That surprises me. Dairy conversions slowed in the south when prices dropped but they didn’t stop.

Beef cattle numbered 3.9 million, down 4 percent since 2009. The number of deer was stable, at 1.1 million. The North Island is home to over 70 percent of all beef animals, while deer farming is concentrated in the lower South Island.

The area of exotic forest harvested increased by 9 percent, to 43,800 hectares, during the year ended 31 March 2010. This increase was driven by the strong international demand for New Zealand logs. Over 70 percent was harvested in the North Island – mainly in the Bay of Plenty, Waikato, and Northland regions.

I’d expect an increase in forest harvests in the current year too. Prices have gone up and farmers with mature plantations have taken the opportunity to get a return from them.

The agricultural sector, including horticulture, accounts for two-thirds of merchandise exports.

When a former Prime Minisiter (was it Lange?) referred to agriculture as a sunset industry he forgot that the sun always rises again.

Thank goodness it has – primary industry is one of few bright spots amid the economic gloom.

We’re seeing its influence in the Waitaki District which an economic profile by BERL shows did better than the country as a whole in 2010.


Law change could save cost of by-election with bob-each-way candidates

14/10/2010

When then-Waitaki District deputy mayor Gary Kircher decided to stand for the mayoralty he chose to make it all or nothing – standing for mayor and not the council as well.

It was always going to be tough to beat a first-term mayor when there were no defining issues. Gary came a credible second which means now he’s neither mayor nor councillor.

Had he taken the bob each way approach he’d probably still be on the council. But had he done that and won, the District would be facing a by-election, as it did three years ago when then-councillor,  Alex Familton stood for council and mayor and won both. When reporting on that, the ODT said a by-election cost about $11,000 in 2007.

Central Otago is facing the expense of a by-election this time round for the same reason. Tony Lepper won a seat as councillor in the Earnscleugh-Manuherikia ward and his bid for the mayoralty.

There is nothing in legislation to stop people standing for more than one position on the same council even though success in both will trigger a by-election and I’m not sure it would be in the best interests of democracy if there was.

However, a law change could enable the next-highest polling candidate to take the council seat with the proviso that a petition by 10% of registered voters could request a by-election.

That would save the expense of a by-election if the bob-each way candidates won two seats and still safeguard democracy by enabling people to request a by-election if enough of them objected to the runner-up taking the seat.


Local body election race gets dirty

23/08/2010

One of the good things about local body elections in smaller districts is that they are usually devoid of personal attacks.

Not so this time.

Someone’s been throwing dirt at Waitaki mayoral aspirant, and sitting deputy mayor, Gary Kircher.

The culprit/s are making the accusations anonmymously which makes it worse.

Four people are seeking the mayoralty but I think it will be a two-horse race between Gary and the sitting mayor, Alec Familton.

I’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful at picking local body results in recent years so am not going to predict the outcome.

The ODT lists all nominees from Waitaki to Invercargill here. 

None of the contests is likely to be as entertaining as the one in Albany where Cameron Slater, AKA Whaleoil, is running.


Race is on for Waitaki mayoralty

27/06/2010

Several months ago someone whose name I’ve forgotten and of whom I’ve heard nothing since, announced he was going to stand for Mayor of Waitaki.

A few weeks ago the incumbent, Alec Familton, announced he was seeking re-election.

Now there’s another contender – deputy mayor Gary Kircher has used his blog to announce he plans to seek the mayoralty too.

I might have said it’s difficult for a sitting councillor to defeat a sitting mayor because both could be judged on what the council has – or hasn’t – done.

But three years ago Alec, who was a sitting councillor, defeated then-Mayor Alan McLay.

Then there were big issues, including controversy over the Opera House development and steep rates rises.

It’s been much quieter on the local body front in the past three years which will make it more difficult to mount a challenge.

However, the race has just begun and if a week is a long time in politics, anything might happen in the four months between now and the election.


Hide wants councils to stick to knitting

09/06/2009

Barrow pushers and empire builders won’t be impressed by Rodney Hide’s mission to ensure local authroities stick to their core activities.

But ratepayers increasingly concerned by rate rises which far exceed inflation will breathe a sigh of relief.

The Waitaki District recently announced a relatively modest overall increase of 3.6% for rates this year but that’s the lowest it’s been for ages and one of the lowest in the country.

Steep rises haven’t been altogether the fault of councils, they’ve had to take on responsibilities which were Central Government’s but only rarely given sufficient, if any, assistance for funding them.

But the power of general competence which the previous government gave local authorities has also led some councils into activities which have been costly and anything but competent.

Hide’s intention for councils to stick to their knitting is welcome, even if there is not yet an agreement over which pattern they should follow.


Dean leads ST poll of Waitaki

05/11/2008

National’s Otago MP and Waitaki candidate  Jacqui Dean is ahead in a Southland Times poll of the Waitaki Electorate.

In the same poll conducted by The Southland Times leading up to the 2005 election, Mrs Dean led sitting Otago MP David Parker by 8 percentage points and went on to win the then Otago seat by 5.5 per cent, a margin of almost 2000 votes – righting a “blip” from the 2002 election when Mr Parker won the traditionally National electorate.

The Otago electorate no longer exists, with Central Otago and Wanaka now included in the Waitaki electorate.

It now covers 34,888 sqaure kilometres taking in all of Central Otago, Waitaki, Waimate and Mackenzie Districts with bits of the Timaru and Queenstown Lakes Districts.

Activity and publicity so far indicate Jacqui is the only candidate actively seeking both the electorate and party vote and that is reflected in the poll.

In this year’s poll, Mrs Dean leads by 14 percentage points, with 42 per cent of support, compared with 28 per cent support for Mr Parker. Third highest poller was Green Party candidate Oliver Briggs on 2.3 per cent support.

But with a quarter of voters polled still undecided Mr Parker could still take the seat if they swung his way.

Results were closer in the party vote, with 37.7 per cent of voters supporting National, and 31.7 per cent Labour. Act was on 2 per cent and New Zealand First on 1.3 per cent support.

In the 2005 election, National won the party vote in the Otago electorate by 5 per cent over Labour.

A popular MP will always win more support than his or her party because some people will split their votes, giving one to the MP but not giving the second tick to her/his party.

So while I’d expect Jacqui’s popularity to transcend party loyalty I think both she and National will get more support on Satruday than this poll indicates.

It is not a deep blue electorate but 37.7% is about 10 points below the average  support for National in nationwide polls and it would be unusual if Waitaki was that different from the rest of the country.


Rolls down, schools to close?

05/10/2008

The wholesale closure of rural and provincial schools by then Education Minister Trevor Mallard was a major contributer to the Labour losing so much support in the provinces at the 2005 election.

By then the government had put a moratorium on school closures, but it was too late. Children were having to travel much further to school, classrooms were overcrowded, communities which lost schools also lost their focus and those affected made their feelings clear at the ballot box.

Because of that the ODT headline Southern school rolls to plummet  will have been greeted with no enthusiasm at all by the government.

The story which follows shows Ministry of Education roll projections based on birth numbers from Statistics New Zealand:

. . . the number of 3 to 4 year-olds will decline in the Waitaki (-0.4%), Dunedin (-2%), Southland (-2.7%), Clutha (-5%) and Gore (-8.8%) territorial authorities between June this year and 2011 . . . 

The drops contrast with a predicted nationwide rise of 9.4% in the number of pre-schoolers.

A decline in pupil numbers of up to 8.8% will impact on schools. However, this time the suggestion that some might have to close isn’t coming from politicians or bureaucrats:

New Zealand Principals Federation president and Balclutha School principal Paddy Ford said Otago and Southland schools needed to take heed of the figures.

“They might need to look at amalgamation. It doesn’t go down well with schools to say this, but we do have to look at ways of providing the best education we can deliver.”

Talk of school closures usually produces more heat than light and it is often those who no longer have pre-school or school age children who protest most strongly. Those whose offspring are at or nearly at school tend to look at what’s best for the children and sometimes that means school closures and amalgamations.

Schools can reach a tipping point because when the roll drops so does the number of teachers. Parents then decide their chidlren are better off at a bigger school even if it means longer on a bus to get there and the roll drops further until the school is no longer viable.

The concern in rural areas though is that roll projections based on birth numbers don’t necessarily reflect the reality, especially if there is a lot of dairying which has a big change in staff at the end of one season and start of another.

Some schools have more than a 30% change in their rolls over Gpysy weekend at the end of May and a few families moving in or out of a school catchment can have a big impact on pupil numbers.

While schools can provide a focus for a community that’s not a reason to keep a school open if a roll decline means its no longer meeting the educational needs of its pupils. The difficulty is that the Ministry has to work on historical figures and projections which don’t always paint the whole picture.

However, if the projections are accurate, Paddy Ford says declining rolls wouldn’t be all bad news because there is a shortage of teachers.

And while the projections for some southern districts are for falling rolls, huge increases are forecast for the Queenstown Lakes (29.7%), Central Otago (14.2%) and Invercargill (11.4%) areas.


Size doesn’t really matter, Bob

28/07/2008

Waitakere mayor Bob Harvey says support for a small-town politician’s bid to for the presidency of Local Government New Zealand is “brainless”.

The Sunday Star Times (not on line) says that Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule is running against Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast. Yule’s bid is supported by the Auckland Regional Council and Environment Canterbury which Harvey labelled misguided.

“It’s a brainless stand as the largest urban authority in New Zealand to not think through what the job entails and I’m surprised and amazed at their decision. Local government will be in serious trouble if they don’t come to their sense and realise that the job is beyond the mayor of a small rural district.”

I wouldn’t call a population of 77,500 small and given the district includes the city of Hastings I’d say it’s more provincial than rural. But of course I’m biased because I live in the Waitaki District which has only 20,000 people and no cities.

However, all that’s beside the point.

What matters is not the size of the local bodies the candidates for the position represent but whether or not they have the skills for the job. I have no idea which of the two would be a better president but I take exception to Harvey’s presumption that the job is “too big for the mayor of a small rural district”.

Harvey might not realise this, but there is intelligent life in the provinces.


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