With billions of dollars on the table, councils nationwide are fighting back against the Government’s plans to take control over water out of their hands.
The reform of The Three Waters - storm, drinking and wastewater - is proving to be a far more contentious issue than expected.
One region against the proposed changes is Havelock North after residents there experienced first-hand the dangers of unsafe drinking water following a gastro outbreak in 2016.
While the mayors in the Hawke's Bay region initially accepted reform to fix the issue, they now say they can do a better job themselves.
“Many emails every day from community who just show their nervousness want a public referendum, want to make sure that we fully engage with community,” Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said.
The Government wants all water assets moved into four entities.
They say it will save up to $180 billion as infrastructure in most regions is in urgent need of repair.
However, almost all of the 67 councils are now calling for a pause, if not a halt, in the proposed plans.
“The decision that we made to provisionally opt out continues to be our stance,” Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai said.
National Party local government spokesperson Chris Luxon said the Government’s plans for water reform “are dead on arrival”.
“You've now got all the entities essentially unravelling and collapsing and I think the Government has to really listen,” he said.
But Local Government New Zealand is concerned misinformation is contributing to a pullback by councils and voters.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said councils “are digging in”, which she called “unfortunate”.
“Certain local leaders, with the benefit of all the information in front of them, have not given the full information to their residents and ratepayers in a way that they can make a balanced decision,” she said.
Water is not the only issue causing division between local and central Government, however.
The Government is also pushing through with the largest overhaul of local government in decades, as well as reforms to the Resource Management Act.
While the reforms are opt in at this stage, the Government has not ruled out making it mandatory.
Luxon said mandating it would be “a really brave call”.
The Government has promised $2.5 billion to help councils with the transition, but Mai is skeptical.
“When we have assets valued at $1.2 billion and we're offered $133 million, it doesn't really stack up for our ratepayers,” she said.
Ratepayers have several more weeks to ensure councils relay public opinion to the Government.