Ratepayers and Residents Association wants community to take power from council

The Raglan Ratepayers and Residents Association wants Waikato District Council to devolve power to its community boards, as has successfully been done in the Thames-Coromandel district.

Raglan residents have been invited to attend a meeting on “Community Empowerment” to be held at the Old School Arts Centre on July 28, from 10am to about 1pm.

The guest speaker will be David Hammond, who as chief executive of Thames-Coromandel District Council developed the community governance model that led to reduced rates and council debt.

Raglan Ratepayers and Residents Association Bob MacLeod said he urged Raglan residents to come listen to Mr Hammond, who now worked as a specialist to help local and central government with complex management issues.

Mr MacLeod said he spoke to Mr Hammond at the recent Start Local Seminar in Wellington, run by Inspiring Communitites and Local Government New Zealand, and invited him to Raglan to show residents how they could empower their community.

Mr Hammond was brought to Coromandel in 2012 by incoming Mayor Glenn Leach to turn around a council that had lost touch with its community, and was crippled under high rates and debt.

“The mayor recognised that the district was a unique place, made up of individual communities, all different,” said Mr MacLeod.

“He understood that the needs of those communities were different.”

The council devolved power to its community boards and area offices.

Services that are now managed locally include harbour facilities, parks and reserves, halls, libraries, airfields, swimming pools, public conveniences, cemeteries, local transport, local strategic planning, community grants, local economic development and local bylaw levels of service.

Community boards also make decisions regarding leases with council-owned properties in their area and the development and approval of local policies. For district activities, such as wastewater supply, solid waste and storm water, the council seeks community board input prior to decision-making.

“What happened was a decrease in rates, staff, and the number of policy people  … because the community boards were telling the council what it wanted and needed,” said Mr MacLeod.

“They found that the community boards could move mountains.”

Mr MacLeod said Waikato District Council doesn’t care about Raglan, or understand its different communities.

“The council doesn’t want to delegate power.

“Our mayor doesn’t like community boards, he’d rather have committees. That’s contrary to the local government act.

“Community boards are supposed to be part of the decision-making process but by the time council consults with us the decision has already been made.”

“The only delegated authority we have is a discretionary fund of $14,000.”

In a video made for Community Empowerment in the Thames-Coromandel District, Mayor Glenn Leach says: “You can do magical things if you can get the enthusiasm back into the community taking ownership. If you take the decision-making away from the community you lose the volunteers, but if you put the power back into the community you energise them.

“If you really care, if you really love your community, do it. Empower them, energise them, and they will make you proud.”

With the local elections coming up, Mr MacLeod said Raglan needed some “really, really savvy community board members, those with some business acumen, a passion for the community, who live and breathe Raglan”.

Only six people put their hand up for the Raglan Community Board in the last local elections. “It wasn’t an election.”

Raglan also had the lowest voter turnout in the Waikato District.

Mr MacLeod said the community apathy was due to the lack of power it had.

He said if the community was given more power and could get things done then that would generate more interest.

The mayoral candidates for this year’s local election and members of other community boards in the Waikato have also been invited to the Community Empowerment meeting.

For those who would like to attend the meeting, please RSVP Chrys Thompson by July 21: chatter2@xtra.co.nz. Morning tea and a light lunch of finger food will be provided.

Inger Vos

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