New Plymouth is to spend about $80,000 to conduct a poll over whether Maori should have an automatic right to a council seat.
The district council this week validated a petition calling for a binding citizens-initiated referendum on the establishment of a Maori ward and a ballot will be held in May.
Last year, the council voted 7-to-6 to establish a Maori ward at the local government elections in 2016.
A resident, Hugh Johnson, then organised a petition to force a referendum on the issue.
Mr Johnson says the issue is too important to leave to councillors alone.
"I believe we are one country and I believe in democracy. I believe there are changes to go on in local government in this sort of nature that people should have a say. Hence this referendum."
The Mayor, Andrew Judd, said he would respect the result of the referendum but would continue to seek improved engagement with Maori regardless of its outcome.