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LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 68, 2 March 1880
"Local self-government” is a very attractive election cry, and one which, is always brought forward as a stock text by those anxious to make their debut in public life. There is so much to be said in favor of it, and arguments to be used so patent, that the principles contained in the maxim arc such as to make themselves so eas'ly understood, and so popular with the public, that the expositor of the views is usually hailed as a patriot, and all his opponents are set down as conservatives and adherents to old fashioned and obsolete notions.
We may at once state that we are, up to a certain point, in favor of “local selfgovernment,” but we are also of opinion that there may be too many sub-divisions of governing power, and much consequent expense in the administration and executive of the governing bodies. When Provincialism was stamped oat, it was because there were nine small Parliaments meeting annually, each of which possessed its staff of officials, and no one has over questioned their usefulness whi’st they held the reins of government. They were not, as a matter of course, bodies who were remarkable for possessing Pitts or Gladstones •among them, but they did their work, according to their lights, in a manner suited to the times, until the great Jove, Sir Julius Yogel, hiding offended at some remarks in the General Assembly, announced the downfall of Provincialism, and the advent of a simpler and more effective system of local selfgovernment viz., the County Council system, by which sixty-three new Governments were established in lieu of the demoralised provinces. Not all of these counties have undertaken the powers and honors offered to them, but the local self-government idea embodied in the alteration can hardly be called a success, as new staffs of officials have necessarily been organised, whilst the old officials of the provincial system have nearly all been absorbed bj' the Central Government in Wellington. The truth really is that the administrative power is now entirely in the hands of the heads of departments in the Empire City ; and on important matters requiring immediate attention the socalled local self-governing bodies cannot stir hand or foot without voluminous and vexatious correspondence with the central power.
To descend in the grade of the various public bodies, we find the same eagerness for the division of governing power, and an instance is just* at present brought under our notice in which it is intended by the residents on the north bank of the Rangitata to have their district severed from the Upper Ashburton and Mount Somers districts, and to create a new one by the partition. We do not for one moment doubt the fact that the Rangitata ratepar'ers have a grievance, or that a due proportion of the large revenues of the boards ly whom their roads, &c. are controlled, has not been expended in their part of the district, or that their rating power has not had its due amount of representation in the Board. There are matters which, vith the growth of the district, the requirements of some portions of it for works of immediate necessity, the inadvisability of rushing on a large number of contracts simultaneously all over the district, and more tljan all, the supineness shown by the far distant ratepayers to the proceedings of the Board, have gll combined to cause dissatisfaction now that funds are running low.
During the past year or two, three divisions of local bodies have taken place —via., Ist. The Municipality of Ashburton from the Ashburton Road Board ; 2nd., the division of the same Road Board into two new bodies, the Wakanui and Longbeach Boards; and 3rd, the dissolution of partneiship in the South Rakaia district by which the Mount Hutt Road Board began its existence. There were in all three cases some cause for the multiplication of bodies and their necessary extra expenditure, and we have no doubt the causes were sufficient, otherwise the ratepayers would not have consented to the alterations. It is, however, probable that the ratepayers did not give much thought to the matter in any shape or form since the only outcome up to the present has been a multiplication in the number of officials, and a corresponding increase in the office expenses. The large subsidies from the land fund are virtually at an end, and the only revenues are those derivable from rates. It is, therefore,
impossible for so largo a staff of officials to be so necessary now as they were two years ago, when some of the Boards were spending 1/3,000 and more a month, whilst now, the largest items in some bodies ’s the monthly payments for the officials.
The newly-contemplated Board have, however, some very strong grounds on which to base their claim for the constitution of a new district, and we have felt surprised at the uncomplaining passiveness with which they have alhgwed other wards in the district to their own and their neighbors’ speciallv-favorcd localities. And* this ward system, as it has been carried out in most Hoad Boards, has been utterly useless for the object it was to accomplish. Tiie old Canterbury Roads Ordinance, 1872, defines the ward system to be one by which five wards shall bo, formed in each district, each having a member elected by the ratepayers having an interest in that ward, that the revenues and proportionate share of subsidies and grants shall ho spent in that ward, that separate books and accounts shall be kept fur each ward, and a “ general account” of the common account of all five wards be also, kept. Had this system been rigidly adhered to, we imagine we would not have heard of any splitting up of large and influential bodies into small and unimportant ones. Those Boards which have, so to speak, played at wards, have elected their, members from the whole body of the ratepayers, have kept one general account, and where the expenditure has absorbed the funds in one ward it lias been the custom to borrow from the credit balance of the other and less favored wards to prosecute their works. This was all very well whilst the bank balances were large, but now that funds are low, the districts which .are called upon to pay heavy taxes, and have had no works executed to show for them, are naturally crying out at the injustice of the business, and are anxious to follow up the advice of J. Stuart Mill’s dictum that “ Taxation without representation is tyranny.” Hence the intended partition of the county between the Hinds and Rangitata from its present partnership.
LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 68, 2 March 1880
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