Arrowtown ward councillor Lex Perkins is a staunch community man.
Perkins knows what’s going on in every community group in the town, proudly picks up litter on the tree-lined streets, straightens shops signs and chats to residents about their lives.
But this isn’t just a story about Lex Perkins.
It’s about his role as a Queenstown Lakes District councillor who solely represents Arrowtown – and the fact that that role may no longer exist in future.
His council is undertaking a representation review – something it must do every six years – and it’s proposing to scrap the designated Arrowtown ward councillor and replace it with an Arrowtown community board.
That means six councillors will be elected from throughout the Wakatipu, therefore not guaranteeing Arrowtown – the third largest Queenstown Lakes District town behind Queenstown and Wanaka – a voice around the council table.
A future councillor chosen to represent Arrowtown may not live in the historic township – and therefore won’t have the same connection like Perkins does, nor that of any of his predecessors.
According to laws set out in the Local Government Electoral Act 2001, the council must consider whether its electorate has fair representation, based on the average normally-resident population per member district-wide.
With an official Statistics NZ population of 2151, Arrowtown apparently falls below the required minimum population.
But it’s important to consider that these figures are reliant on old census data that was collected in 2006.
Naturally Perkins has a strong opinion on the controversial issue – as a two-term councillor, he has a vested interest.
But he’s not out to “push my own barrow”.
“I’m thinking of the past councillors and what they did for Arrowtown, and I think of what future councillors can do for this town. It’s imperative that the status quo remains,” the 72-year-old says.
“The fact is one has to live and breathe Arrowtown to understand Arrowtown.”
Following the amalgamation of Arrowtown Borough Council with the council in 1989, ward members have been elected to represent the village to protect its historic past and future.
The ward representation issue has reared its head twice in recent years but the community spoke out against it, putting a halt to any change.
“Arrowtown has survived because since day one, we have had people on the ground that care for our village concept,” Perkins says.
“Arrowtown’s unprecedented, pristine character is threatened by a multitude of new concepts that are continually put forward which could undermine the town’s future wellbeing.
“The very thought of having a nominated councillor living outside the Arrowtown boundary to represent us simply won’t work.”
It’s hard to find any Arrowtowner who disagrees.
Arrowtown Promotion and Business Association chairman Adin May says a dedicated councillor “gets things done” for the community.
“Arrowtown is unique historically and significant within the area are the heritage buildings and what Arrowtown offers on a whole. I think taking away our ward councillor would definitely dilute that,” he says.
“Unless you have a person dedicated to that case, other projects are likely to overshadow what’s important to us as Arrowtown residents.”
The option of having a community board would allow for four elected members and an appointed councillor. Perkins says this won’t be as effective as having a dedicated Arrowtown councillor.
The council has put up three alternatives to its proposal on its website and through information flyers. Perkins and May urge residents to have their say on how they want to be represented before submissions close on May 18.