October 16, 2017
This time last year, Phil Goff was elected Mayor of Auckland, alongside a majority of fiscally conservative Councillors. We decided to reflect on whether he has lived up to his election promises.
At last year's elections, Mr Goff promised that while in office, he would trim Council spending by 3-6%. Despite his words, it seems Mr Goff is still searching for these savings, delivering next to nothing in his first budget.
A $42 million wage budget blowout has severely offset any savings made over the last year. This is due to the empire building culture of Council and its CCOs, where one in five Council staff earn triple figures, and 194 staff earn over $200,000. Mr Goff has failed to deliver any meaningful changes to the Council's culture.
While Mr Goff came through on his promise to keep rates rises at 2.5% in his first budget, the accommodation sector became the new victims, with the passage of a targeted 'bed tax' in June. Furthermore, his constant complaints of a lack of funding in the media makes moderate rates hikes look no longer likely for future budgets.
Perhaps if Mr Goff actually kept to his promise to cut Council spending, the funding gaps he complains of would not be as much of an issue.
Any claim that Mr Goff is delivering on his promises is exceedingly misguided.
Herald writer Bernard Orsman gave Mr Goff a B for his first year in office. We give him a C-. It's time to start delivering, Mr Goff.
October 11, 2017
Auckland Council has been caught out providing false information regarding the average rates paid by Auckland households, with revised figures showing that Aucklanders pay the second highest rates in New Zealand.
Over multiple years, officials have provided incorrect information to the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance and Taxpayers’ Union researchers under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987, presumably as an attempt to avoid criticism of the Council’s very high costs in comparison to the rest of the country.
As a result of these illegitimate figures, Auckland Council came out much better in our local government league tables than justified. It appears the Council has coordinated responses to deliberately mislead the public on what the average ratepayer pays.
In the initial report, Auckland Council's rates were comparable to New Zealand’s average. Now that the Council has coughed up the true figures, we know Auckland rates are actually the second highest in the country.
Before the Ratepayers’ Report local government league tables were published, we wrote to Auckland Council’s CEO and specifically asked for the rates figure to be checked a third time and were assured it was accurate.
With light finally shed on the truth, we have exposed that Aucklanders pay the second highest residential rates in the country.
This new set of data shows that if Auckland Council were as efficient as others in New Zealand, they would be better fiscally prepared to invest in the infrastructure that our city desperately needs.
Ratepayers’ Report was jointly published by the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance and the Taxpayers’ Union.
The ‘please explain’ letter sent to Mayor Phil Goff is here:
August 22, 2017
After many months of work behind the scenes, we have just gone live with our local government league tables – published in partnership with our national sister organisation, the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.
Ratepayers’ Report allows you put aside the political spin and see how Auckland Council performs against councils across the country. It also allows for a ‘like-for-like’ comparison against and other ‘unitary authorities’ (i.e. where councils performing the functions of both a territorial/city council and a regional council).
Every dollar spent by a Council was earned by a hard-working ratepayer. This tool allows ratepayers to see how that money is being spent.
Key findings for Auckland
The report exposes Auckland Council’s debt: now $22,189 per ratepayer. That’s more than three times the national average of $6,989. Even with low interest rates, $839 of everyone’s rates is now required just to service Auckland Council’s borrowing.
Ratepayers’ Report also reveals that Auckland Council has the second highest ratio of staff per residential ratepayer when compared to other unitary councils – one staff member for every 69 residential properties.
This strongly suggests that Auckland Council is overstaffed. Whilst a high staff to ratepayer ratio can offer more face-to-face interaction, it requires significantly more funding. In comparison, Marlborough District Council employs a one to 97 staff to ratepayer ratio – representing a $200 difference in staff costs per residential ratepayer compared to Auckland.
Not only does Auckland Council have a lot of staff, it also pays them generously. Nearly fifteen percent are paid more than $100,000 per year compared to only nine percent in the general workforce.
Thank you to our supporters
Ratepayers’ Report has been made possible by the generosity of supporters who have chipped-in and donated to our cause fighting for more accountability and transparency in our super city. A big thank you for those who have.
To support our campaign, take a moment to make a contribution by clicking here.
We hope you find Ratepayers’ Report useful – and welcome your feedback.
July 11, 2017
Despite the higher rates, Auckland Council is slashing its spend on transport, with a projected fall of 46% in 2018 and other years in the next decade forecast to see the Council spend one-third less than current transport spending. The modelling is contained in the previously secret analysis of Auckland Council’s financial plans which was prepared for Government Ministers by the Ministry of Transport.
June 05, 2017
The briefing papers, obtained by the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance under the Official Information Act, are available to read below. The papers show that Auckland Council’s annual transport spend of $796 million is forecast to decline to $432 million in 2018.
Commenting on the report, Jo Holmes, a spokesperson for the Ratepayers’ Alliance, said, “At the very time Aucklanders are demanding more transport spending and better infrastructure, the Council is cutting funding. It appears the only plan it has is a hope that the Government are forced to pick up the bill.
Transport is a core spending area and the most urgent investment needed in Auckland. Instead of getting back to core services, these documents show that the Council is reducing both the proportion of its budget and the nominal amount that is spent on transport.
Back in 2015, we were told that the 9.9% rates hike and transport levy was needed to boost transport spending. These documents show that ratepayers were lied to, with funding of Auckland’s transportation remaining stagnant since 2008.
Not only was Len Brown’s transport levy not even used to fund transport infrastructure, now Phil Goff’s Council claims its removal is the reason for reducing transport spending.
With the last Council having borrowed up to their eyeballs, the only one way out of this mess is for the Council to do what they promised in the lead-up to last year’s election: reprioritise spending to core areas and cut the extravagance, waste, and ever increasing areas Auckland Council is spending our money on.
The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance can reveal that Auckland Council spent $6,200 of ratepayers’ money to bring in specialist lift software engineers to enable the elevators in its Albert Street headquarters to announce floor levels in Te Reo Māori, rather than just English.
Information released by the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance and obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, states that this is a pilot project, which may be extended to other council sites across the city.
While everyone supports more use of Te Reo, is spending more than $6,000 of ratepayers’ money so office staff are treated to Te Reo numeracy really the highest priority?
From our perspective the question is, do ratepayers really get $6,000 of value from changing the language of a lift announcement in an office building? Is it really a priority when new rates are having to be introduced, and our motorways are congested?
Phil Goff was elected to tackle Auckland Council’s wasteful spending. Instead, he’s trying to introduce new rates to whack the tourism sector, while money is being wasted literally, as he takes the lift up his ivory tower.
UPDATE: An Auckland Council official has been quoted in the media today claiming that the 'Reo Uplift Initiative' has only cost ratepayers $700. This is totally inconsistent with our LGOIMA request, as shown below, that made very clear that the whole $6,200 has been spent on the initiative. You can see our media response to the comments below:
May 31, 2017
Nice try Auckland Council - but the spin only makes you look foolish
Auckland Council’s claims in media that changes to make its Albert Street HQ lifts speak Te Reo cost only $700, are totally inconsistent with earlier correspondence from the Council released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act on the Council’s ‘Reo Uplift Initiative’, made public yesterday by the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance.
Ratepayers’ Alliance Spokesperson Jo Holmes says, “It is concerning that officials now appear to be willing to mislead the public in order to try and quell public criticism about the organisation’s spending priorities. The letter from the Council makes very clear that the whole $6,200 spend was part of the ‘Reo Uplift Initiative’. The $700 only relates to paying someone for the voice recording.”
“Either the Council official being quoted in the media does not know how much her own projects cost, or there is an element of spin. Perhaps there is patch protection going on.”
“It is with some irony that the ratepayer-funded spin doctors are calling this an ‘investment’. Oh please, while Aucklanders are parked on motorways their Council is ‘investing’ in the vocabulary of their office tower lifts.”
Our efforts to hold Auckland Councillors to account are really getting under their skin
We've had the most incredible set of events over the last 48 hours here at the Ratepayers' Alliance
On Monday the media website 'The Spinoff' carried as its lead story an article which alleged (although it portrayed it as fact) a nasty and totally untrue allegation that our key personnel had been sending white feathers to Councillors as a symbol of cowardice. They were drawing a WWI inference, alleging that we considered those Councillors supportive of Phil Goff's proposed rate hikes akin to wartime traitors.
On social media, the claims went even further: that our efforts to hold Councillors to their 2% rates promise are 'far-right' extremism, and (another totally made up allegation) alleged that we had pinned white feathers to the front doors of Councillors' homes. These allegations are totally untrue.
After some heated correspondence, the allegations have been totally withdrawn and the story completely rewritten. The Spinoff has now apologised, but has still not explained why it made the allegations, and why no effort whatsoever was made to seek comment from us prior to publication.
Council-funded media organisation doing a hit job?
Incidentally, The Spinoff is funded by the controversial "Heart of the City" group - which is, of course, funded through rates!
Kiwiblog's David Farrar has explained what happened, and why we think it was a Council hit job.
The timing seems just too cute, with the Council's Finance and Performance Committee voting this week on the Budget. Was this intended to distract or discredit us? If so, it won't work.
Phil Goff's first budget
As mentioned, tomorrow the Finance and Performance Committee votes on this year's Annual Plan (Budget) which sets the rates for the next financial year.
The Mayor is proposing a 2.5% rates hike as well as new rates on businesses and hotels. It is being sold as a 'bed tax' - in fact, it is a plain rate just targeting a particular property sector.
Stand with us for fiscal prudence - keep politicians to their word
2% ≠ 2.5% (plus new taxes). These next few weeks will be a test for the Councillors who signed our 2% Ratepayer Protection Pledge but are now trying to back away.
For example, Orakei Councillor Desley Simpson says she is only bound by the Pledge "if the community doesn't tell her they want higher rates".
It seems she's relying on the Council's spin in its consultation documents that a 2% rate hike would lead to a reduction in services and that the majority of people in her ward gave feedback that they want service levels to stay the same.
We don't accept Cr Simpon's excuse - or the Council's spin. Surely with inflation at 2.2%, and the Council budgeting to reduce spending on transport infrastructure (yes, it really is reducing - despite the 9.9% rates hike last year!) Cr Simpson and the others should be able to find 0.2% efficiency. Cutting back on ballooning staff numbers would be a good place to start.
In addition, even if the 2% rates pledge matched Phil Goff's 2.5%, we don't see how these Councillors can vote for that and new 'targeted' rates on top. That's not what Aucklanders voted for!
Councillors appear to be siding with the Mayor, but the public feedback needed now is clear: Councillors should stick to their pledges.
Don't let the dirty-trick campaign deflect from the key message: politicians should be held to their word
We're asking our supporters to click here to email Councillors telling them to stick to their election promises.
Given that this Council appears to be stopping at nothing to prevent Councillors being held to their pre-election promises, we are redoubling our efforts to ensure Councillors who stood on a platform last year to keep rates at 2% are held to it.
Councillors who said they would keep rates low should do it. Click here to send an email.
In 2015/16, rates went up by 9.9%. Phil Goff promised to keep annual rate rises to 2.5%. Instead, Mr Goff is pushing for at least 2.5% and new "targeted rates". To do that, he needs some of the Councillors who signed the 2% Ratepayer Protection Pledge to breach it. That's what we need to prevent.
Please lend one minute to support the campaign keeping politicians to their word by clicking here.
Thank you for your support.
March 31, 2017
Earlier in the week submissions closed on Auckland Council's Annual Budget - the document which sets rates for the financial year beginning in July (our submission is available to read here).
We sent in our submission and asked to present in person to Councillors, as has been common in the past. One of the issues the Council will be considering is Phil Goff's proposal to increase the wages of the Council and impose a "living wage" for all staff. We had lined up an expert labour economist who used to work for the Department of Labour to present to Councillors.
We've now discovered that to avoid having to listen to ratepayers, Councillors resolved not to allow people to submit in person on this year’s budget. They didn’t even want us – New Zealand’s largest ratepayer group - to present. They said ratepayers are not a ‘key stakeholder’.
"We'll decide what your rates are, but we don't want to hear from you" — Auckland Councillors
Councillor Daniel Newman proposed an amendment to Mayor Phil Goff’s consultation plan. This is what is recorded in the Council minutes:
Councillors voted to only hear from their own group of "sock puppet" organisations like the Property Council (which the Council uses our money to fund).
We wrote to the Finance Committee Chair Councillor Ross Clow asking what sort of consultation involves only inviting hand-picked parties to present to Councillors before submissions even close. You can read our letter here.
As explained in the letter, what the Council is doing is probably illegal. But Councillors know that by making sure that it hears from those most likely to mount a legal challenge, they can avoid the bad publicity of having ratepayers tell them what they think about yet another year of rate hikes many times the level of inflation.
We say that ratepayers are a key stakeholder and should be allowed a say on this year's budget
If you agree that Councillors should be hearing from ratepayers and not just the Council's hand-picked elite, please take a moment to email those Councillors who voted to stop you having your say on your rates bill.
March 31, 2017
Key points of the Ratepayers' Alliance submission on the draft Annual Budget
- Until such a time as Aucklanders can trust the Council to be responsible with our money, we do not support any rate increase in excess of inflation. Before rate increases are exercised, the Council needs to show that it values ratepayer dollars as much as those ratepayers who earned them.
- The consultation papers fail to show that the Council has taken any meaningful steps in the preparation of the Budget to cut wasteful spending. Instead, all efforts appear to be directed at finding new ways to increase the Council’s tax burden on Aucklanders and increase spending. If the Council takes all forms of current spending for granted, then rates will never plateau or fall. There is no evidence of the spending reviews talked about during last year’s election campaign.
- The Council cannot credibly claim that rate hikes will go toward the purpose of better infrastructure. We saw this with the implementation of the transport levy. According to the CEO of Auckland Transport, after the levy was introduced, there was a reduction in capital expenditure on transport. In other words, Aucklanders were lied to.
- Those Councillors who signed the 2% Ratepayer Protection Pledge are bound to support the low rates (2%) option.
- There is significant evidence that living wage policies hurt the people they are intended to help. Lower-skilled workers are crowded out of the market by higher-skilled candidates attracted by the higher wage. While the living wage policy would be costly for ratepayers, the desired reductions in poverty are unlikely to be achieved.
- Unless targeted tourism provider rates are accompanied by equal decreases in residential rates, then none of the options in the consultation papers are appropriate.
Read the full submission here:
December 01, 2016
Hot on the heels of ATEED’s ill-fated attempt to rebrand Auckland as the ‘place desired by many’ comes news of another undesirable and wholly unnecessary branding exercise by an Auckland CCO (Council Controlled Organisation).
We have obtained information under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 showing that Auckland Transport has used ratepayers’ money to pay for a re-brand of cycle lobby group, Cycle Action, into ‘Bike Auckland’.
Ratepayers’ money should not be used to fund lobby groups or frivolous re-branding exercises. When Auckland’s roads are in disrepair and basic services are being cut to the bone, ratepayers will be alarmed to know their money is being used in this way.
Although the amount is small, it is the principle. What role is it of Auckland Transport to pay for rebranding for groups which lobby it? The Ratepayers’ Alliance would never accept a cent for something like this. It begs the question, who is lobbying who here?
How many more lobby groups are being funded by ratepayers in this way? It is just the pet lobby groups of a few Councillors that get this special treatment or is it every lobby group? Either way, ratepayers don't get value for money funding the Council's sockpuppet lobby groups.
You can view the Council's response here:
October 17, 2016
The confirmed Council election results have now been released, and the efforts of the Ratepayers’ Alliance have altered the shape of the Council for the better.
A majority of Councillors have committed to fiscal prudence
Despite all the talk of the centre-right “Auckland Future” ticket failing (see the NZ Herald’s post-mortem here), your humble Ratepayers’ Alliance has ensured that the majority of councillors under the new Mayor have made a commitment to limit rate hikes and stand for fiscal prudence in our Super City!
We held those who voted for the 9.9% rates hike to account...
Penny Webster was one of the
"Terrible Ten" held to account
Firstly, our campaign efforts and leafletting drops in the Rodney ward saw Len Brown’s former Chairperson of the Strategy and Finance Committee booted off the Council and replaced with Greg Sayers. You will recall that Cr Webster claimed to champion fiscal prudence when, in fact, she was one of the ‘Terrible Ten’ that allowed the 9.9% rate hikes last year. We are delighted to have helped elect a Councillor for Rodney who signed our 2% “Ratepayer Protection Pledge”.
Also gone is Calum Penrose (Manurewa-Papakura ward) – another one of the ‘Terrible Ten’. Well done to Daniel Newman for what we understand was a very competitive campaign.
...and ensured a new Council won't repeat the same mistake
Of the new Council of 20 - a majority have either signed our Ratepayer Protection Pledge, an equivalent 2% pledge, or have a proven record of standing up for ratepayers.
Reasonable Rates and Sensible Spending
Since the formation of the Ratepayers’ Alliance 18 months ago, it’s been very humbling to have had tens of thousands of Aucklanders join with us and support the cause to put Auckland Council onto a course of reasonable rates and sensible spending. Achieving what we set out to do from the beginning – a council majority standing up for ratepayers – was only made possible thanks to you.
With your support, we'll keep fighting for you!
The work isn’t over yet. Now our focus turns to holding those who have signed the Pledge to account and continuing to shine the light on wasteful Council spending. To allow us to keep the heat on the newly elected Council - and ensure their words are put into action - please take a moment to donate.
Click here to chip in
From the whole team here at the Ratepayers' Alliance, thank you again for your support - and making this fantastic result possible.