Two of three district councils in Wairarapa - Masterton and Carterton, are progressing through merger talks, while a third council - the South Wairarapa District Council - says it will sit it out for now.
The idea is to unify a region with a small population and save ratepayers’ money, Carterton mayor Ron Mark says.
“Having three mayors, is that smart? Having this many councillors, is that smart? Having three CEOs and three senior managers?” he says.
His counterpart in Masterton, a 10-minute drive away, says Masterton council is interested. “We are not saying we want to go the whole hog but at this stage we certainly want to be a part of the conversation,” Masterton mayor Gary Caffell says.
Both mayors say one of the concerns is that of Wairarapa being subsumed by a larger Wellington region.
“The worry for us is that we will get into the supercity debate and I don’t think many people this side of the Remutaka want to get involved with merging with the councils on the other side,” Caffel says.
Mark says he has been talking and listening to iwi, and they are interested in the idea of a larger Wairarapa local body. “The whakapapa links are very strong, therefore the communication links are also very strong, both on my Kahungunu side and my Rangitāne side,” he says. “Most of the people we engage with are my whanaunga so let me assure you there is no shortage of opportunity and frankness in those conversations.”
“It’s interesting how unified iwi are around the notion of not being put into conflict consistently against Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Raukawa, which is a high probability if we are absorbed into a Wellington style unitary authority,” Mark says.
However, there doesn’t seem to be a common agreement on the timeframe. While Caffell says he is keen on consultation with iwi and the Local Government Commission, there is no timeframe on that. But according to the Carterton mayor, “if we get off our backsides and get moving, we can have a new structure in place for the 2025 elections.”
A third local body, South Wairarapa, has said the council has discussed the matter informally and took the position of not committing to plan to merge. “There was, however, an openness to continued conversation and investigation of the options available to us,” deputy mayor Melissa Sadler-Futter says
“South Wairarapa District Council will watch with interest the progress of our neighbouring councils,” she says.