The Southland District Council is considering whether its 20 Community Development Area sub-committees would be better replaced with eight community boards that would cover a wider range of townships.
CDAs are a unique part of how the Southland District Council governs itself from the grassroots level. They function differently than community boards, which tend to represent larger towns. The CDA governance structure used by the Southland District Council is unique in New Zealand.
The council has been having "in house" conversations with CDAs and community boards about the idea as part of the council's ongoing representation review. Last week there was a meeting in Lumsden that CDA members were invited to, and today (March 1) there will be a meeting in Winton for community boards.
Southland District mayor Gary Tong said the idea at this stage was only a "concept" and by no means final. Whatever did go to public consultation later this autumn was still to be determined prior to having finished talking with all CDAs and community boards.
Representation reviews happen every six years. Some towns have a community board or CDA — along with a councillor — to represent them. However, a third of the Southland District was represented only by the mayor or its councillor, Mr Tong said.
"There are a lot of people out there that want to be involved in local government and either can't because of the boundary of the CDA or can't because they're excluded because of whatever reason around those boundaries."
The final structure won't go to the local government commission until next year, but Mr Tong said the council decided to begin the review process early to give people enough time to provide feedback.
Last year the council held numerous "Community Conversations" meetings with the public, asking for feedback on what their ideal version of local representation might look like. Mr Tong said there were various views on CDAs, with some feeling like they had "done their dash".
Lumsden CDA chairman Rob Scott said the concept he reviewed last week had Lumsden, Athol, Garston and Mossburn coming together to form one community board. He said there needed to be some sort of middle ground between the status quo, which needed to change, and potentially losing a unique form of community representation.
"Southland is a unique province in the country as it is, and we've had a unique system. Sometimes making too big a change and we lose some of that identity that we've had and it could actually go the wrong way for us."
Waikaia CDA chairman Ray Dickson said they were told they would be getting better service through forming a larger community board. In their case, Riversdale, Waikaia, and Balfour would turn into one community board.
He said for the Waikaia CDA the status quo had worked well for them, but other CDAs had said they had problems getting projects done.
Until more details came in and more questions were answered — such as how local rates and each town's financial reserves would be dealt with — he was keeping an open mind in the interim.
Riversdale CDA chairman Paul Langford said the system seemed to work well for them, but recognised it was work for council staff to attend so many meetings across the district.
"I know for [council] staff, it involved a lot of meetings for them. It's not a lot for us, we're lucky to get three or four a year."
He said it was hard enough to get people to stand for the Riversdale CDA, and he thought it might be even more difficult to recruit people for a new community board encompassing a larger area that locals may not be as concerned about.
"It's hard enough when you're advocating for a small town like Riversdale to get things done accurately and well. Let alone if we were trying to advocate fairly for the whole area."
The Southland District Council declined Advocate South's request for a copy of the concept documentation in question on the basis it was still in draft form and a public consultation document would follow.