A bid to piggyback a referendum poll on the by-election voting papers was rejected this week by city councillors who say there are more important referendum issues that how Tauranga ratepayers vote for their councillors.
Councillor Larry Baldock says the opportunity presented by the by-election presents a cheap opportunity to seek the electorate’s views on a decision made by the city council last August that will see the next council election votes counted under a single transferable vote system instead of the existing first past the post vote.
The decision attracted little public comment at the time and there were no calls for a petition to challenge it.
The decision on August 15 to change from first past the post to single transferable vote came a little bit out of the blue, says Larry. Councillors had to make a decision by September 12 and there was no chance to consult the electorate.
Changing the voting system is a significant change, says Larry, one of two issues (how we vote, and Maori wards) under the Local Government Act where the council can hold a poll.
By taking advantage of the requirement to hold a by election following the death of councillor Gail McIntosh on January 4, the costs of a referendum can be reduced from an estimated cost of more than $150,000 as a stand-alone poll, to a mere $45,000.
Returning officer Warwick Lampp says it could be as little as $20,000, depending on the number of candidates.
He presented the notice of motion because there wasn’t time to go through the normal process of having staff prepare a report for discussion. The voting referendum had to be approved at Wednesday’s meeting if the question was to be included in the voting papers.
But other issues like the museum options, are under different legal requirements and there is time to discuss them at the February 20 council meeting and include it into the voting documents. There is a legal question of how such a poll will affect the legally required consultation under the Long Term Plan process.
The majority of councillors opposed Larry’s motion.
“I think we should trust our public,” says Max Mason. “They do know what STV is because they have used it through the District Health Board for the last while and they have a good understanding of it.
“If it was a massive problem out there then we would have absolutely had a push-back from the public when this decision was made, some indication we have made a wrong call - but that hasn’t happened. I think we are solving a problem a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Voting in August was 8/3. The vote this week was also three against, with Mayor Greg Brownless saying he was voting only to be consistent with his earlier vote.