First tranche of ‘better off’ funding from Three Waters about to start flowing

A $2.5 billion support package is to be made available for local authorities under the Government’s Three Waters reform programme, made up of “better off” and “no worse off” funds.

STACY SQUIRES/Stuff

A $2.5 billion support package is to be made available for local authorities under the Government’s Three Waters reform programme, made up of “better off” and “no worse off” funds.

Tasman District Council is compiling a list of projects for which it hopes to secure a slice from the first $500 million tranche of the Government’s “better off” funding for the Three Waters reform programme.

That first $500m – from a $2 billion total – is due to be delivered from July 1. It is part of a $2.5b support package for local authorities under the Government’s reform programme that aims to amalgamate the water services of 67 councils nationally into four water service entities.

Under the proposal, control of most of Tasman District Council’s drinking water, wastewater and storm water (three waters) assets are to be transferred to “entity C”.

The $2b “better off” fund consists of $1b of Crown funding and $1b from the proposed water services entities. The other $500m in the support package is earmarked to help ensure no local authority is worse off as a direct result of the reform.

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Tasman District Council community infrastructure group manager Richard Kirby says staff are compiling a list of projects that could attract some “better off” funding.

Martin De Ruyter/Stuff

Tasman District Council community infrastructure group manager Richard Kirby says staff are compiling a list of projects that could attract some “better off” funding.

Tasman District Council staff plan to apply for some of that “no worse off” funding, too – to cover the time they are spending working on the reforms, which is in addition to their business-as-usual roles.

The $2b “better off” funding is to be allocated to councils based on a formula that considers population, relative deprivation and land area. An indicative total of $22.54m has been allocated for Tasman District Council. Assuming it is delivered on a pro rata basis, the council may receive just over $5.6m from the first $500m tranche.

“So, we’re actually working on a list of projects and some criteria,” council community infrastructure group manager Richard Kirby on Thursday told the operations​ committee.

Once finalised, staff intended to present that list to elected members, likely in May, he said.

A staff report for the council’s draft Annual Plan 2022-23, which includes higher-than-planned rate revenue rises and a hike in water charges, says the council will explore “whether some of this funding could be used to reduce the impact of the increase in water rates”.

Local Government NZ president Stuart Crosby said the availability of the first tranche of “better off” funding was good news.

“We see this as a real opportunity for councils to start or fast-track projects that might not otherwise have got off the ground,” Crosby said.

Tasman District Council's interests and debt in the Waimea dam, under construction near Nelson, are tipped to transfer to a new water entity under the Three Waters reform programme.

Waimea Water/Supplied

Tasman District Council’s interests and debt in the Waimea dam, under construction near Nelson, are tipped to transfer to a new water entity under the Three Waters reform programme.

In a written report for the operations​ committee on the Three Waters reform programme, Kirby outlines that the National Transition Unit – established to oversee the implementation of the reforms – is to set up four local establishment entities in 2022, which will support the transition in their area. Each entity will have a board and chief executive. On July 1, 2024, those local establishment entities will become the four water service entities.

The water services entities will require skilled and capable workforces, he says.

STUFF

The Government will push ahead with Three Waters reform despite considerable opposition. Video first published on October 27, 2021.

Councillor Kit Maling said there were “only so many” qualified and specialist staff and asked about “the risk for us going forward in terms of them pinching staff”.

Kirby said there had not yet been any direct requests for council staff to join the new units.

“Suffice to say it is still early days and the establishment unit is still trying to set those up, so things may change over the next few months.”

The intention was that all council employees working primarily in water services, except senior executives, would transfer to the new water services entity in their area, Kirby said.

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