There are two types of local authority – territorial authorities (cities and districts) and regional councils. Under the Local Government Act 2002, both types exist to promote the social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing of communities. Both have a broad discretion, following consultation with their communities, to decide what activities they will undertake to further this purpose. They also have separate statutory roles and responsibilities under other Acts. The new Act encourages cooperative action between local authorities, central government agencies and community/business groups.
New Zealand has 74 territorial authorities (15 cities, 58 district councils, and the Chatham Islands Council). Territorial authorities usually provide infrastructure (such as roads, water, wastewater) and services (such as rubbish collection, libraries and other cultural facilities, and sports and recreational facilities). They also undertake district planning. The council of a territorial authority is made up of an elected Mayor and councillors. Four councils are unitary authorities, performing the roles of both a district and a regional council.
There are 12 regional councils. They have a number of specific roles in environmental management, such as managing water, soil and air resources and quality, and control of noxious plant and animal pests. The council of a regional council is made up of elected councillors who themselves elect a Chair.
Some districts have community boards covering parts of a district. They represent local community interests to council, and maintain an overview of council services within the community board area.
The main source of income for local authorities is rates (a tax on the value of property). The levels of rates are set by individual councils, reflecting their individual revenue needs. Councils also obtain significant revenues from user charges and, in some cases, investments. Central government grants little funding for local authorities other than for roads.
The elected members are the decision-making body of a local authority.
They employ the local authority’s chief executive, who then employs
other staff to action the council’s decisions.
Services are not always directly provided by council staff. Councils
can contract with the private and non-profit sectors for the delivery
of services. Some councils make use of arms-length entities, which may
be run along the lines of profit-making private businesses, or as non-profit-making
bodies, such as Trusts.
Councils must make their decisions within the planning and decision-making frameworks set out in the Local Government Act. These ensure that council decision-making is well informed, that communities have access to the information they need to hold their elected representatives effectively accountable, and that members of the public are given opportunities to participate in decision-making processes. The planning processes require an integrated consideration of the social, economic, environmental and cultural aspects of issues and of their long-term implications.
Each council is responsible for facilitating a process (at least once every six years) to identify their community’s desired outcomes. The process must encourage public participation, and seek engagement with other agencies and organisations capable of affecting the wellbeing of the community. The results can then inform and guide planning for both councils and these other agencies and organisations.
At intervals of at least three years, each council has to produce a long-term council community plan (LTCCP) that sets out activities planned for the next 10 years. The development of the plan is subject to public consultation. Each year, a council produces an annual plan setting out its planned expenditure and its arrangements for raising revenue over the coming year. This is also subject to public consultation. Every year, councils report against the annual plan and the LTCCP in their annual report.
Local authorities are obliged to provide appropriate opportunities for
public input into decision-making, and to use a specific consultation
process for major decisions that are likely to have a significant
impact on the community.
Elections for all local authorities are held on the second Saturday in October, every third year. The next elections are on 9 October 2004. All people who are registered to vote at Parliamentary elections are eligible to vote in the local authority elections in the district and region where they live. In addition, people who pay rates in a district or region where they do not live can apply to be added to the electoral rolls. Anybody who is a Parliamentary elector and a New Zealand citizen may stand for election. Postal voting is used by all local authorities.
Till now, elections have used the First Past the Post (FPP) electoral system. Local authorities will now have the option of using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system. All District Health Boards will also use the STV system.
Under STV voters rank candidates in their order of preference, and may rank as many or as few candidates as they wish. The numbers of vacancies and votes determine the quota a candidate must reach to be successful. More information on STV can be found in the Guide to Local Government and at www.stv.govt.nz
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Local authorities are ultimately accountable to the electors of the local community. A range of organisations have roles and responsibilities that support this local accountability.
Local authorities are subject to the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (LGOIMA), which generally mirrors the Official Information Act that applies to central government. Requests under that Act must normally be responded to within 20 working days.
The Ombudsmen can investigate complaints about a council on grounds set out in the Ombudsmen Act and, where there are issues about the release of information, under LGOIMA.
The Privacy Commissioner considers privacy issues and investigates complaints about breaches of the Privacy Act, such as when personal information about you has been disclosed to others or a council has refused to provide you with information it holds about yourself.
The Audit Office inspects the financial accounts of local authorities to check that correct procedures have been followed, and performance information has been accurately reported. It is also able to carry out special investigations as it sees fit.
The Local Government Commission makes decisions on a number of matters, including local government structure and boundaries. It also considers appeals regarding local authority representation and can investigate matters relating to the system of local government or a specific local authority.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment may investigate if a council’s environmental planning or management is believed to be ineffective, or if the council’s acts or omissions have had adverse effects on the environment.
The Ministry for the Environment administers the Resource Management Act. It has produced a number of publications explaining how the Act works.
You can also write to the Minister of Local Government. The Minister usually considers matters of general policy, and does not review specific decisions made by councils. In extreme situations, the Minister does have the power to initiate reviews of a local authority .