News

June 06, 2020

Campaign launched to stop Auckland Council’s screwing of rates consultation

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance has launched a major campaign to give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders who oppose Auckland Council’s proposed rate hike options.

In Auckland Council’s official consultation form for the Emergency Budget, ratepayers are told to choose between a rate hike of 3.5%, 2.5%, or an ‘I don’t know’ option. The message seems to be that if you oppose a rate hike you must be uninformed.

The Council’s plan is clearly to manipulate ratepayers into endorsing the lower 2.5% option so Phil Goff can claim public supports for his rate hike. That is an insulting attempt to fudge the consultation process and screw the scrum.

In response, the Ratepayers’ Alliance has published an alternative submission form at www.Rates2020.nz. This form poses the same question about rates, but adds additional choices: a zero rates increase, a 2.5% rates decrease, a 3.5% rates decrease, and an ‘other’ option. Ratepayers’ details and comments are sent straight to the Council as a formal submission.

Rates consultation

An economic crisis is the worst time to increase taxes – especially council rates, which unlike income taxes show no mercy towards households that have lost their livelihoods.

The Council cries poverty while it pays more than 2800 staff salaries higher than $100,000, and forges ahead with gold-plated projects like the City Rail Link. A zero rates increase is absolutely achievable, but Councillors must wrestle control of the Emergency Budget from self-interested officials, and sacrifice the nice-to-haves just like private businesses and households across the Super City have done already.

The campaign will be boosted with billboards, yard signs, Facebook ads, and (at this stage) 80,000 pamphlets delivered to homes across Auckland.

May 12, 2020

Phil Goff's office doesn't want Aucklanders to see this billboard

You will recall our proposed advert below which we proposed to run as double page spread in the Herald on Sunday. The Herald’s publishers got cold feet and delayed, and eventually rejected it for publication

No matter we thought – Stuff (publishers of the free local papers) told us they were happy to publish the advert. They even ran it past the Advertising Standards Authority which gave our Town Hall Rich List advert the green light.

So we were amazed when, again at the very last minute, Stuff too pulled the plug! The Council is too big an advertiser to jeopardise.

Double page spread

Morally obligated to spend the money we’d fundraised for advertising the Town Hall Rich List on advertising, we hoped to tell you this week that we were buying a billboard right outside the Council’s offices in the CBD.

But now we discover the extent of the skulduggery of Auckland Council. We were told last night that the Mayor’s Office has been calling around billboard companies demanding that our Town Hall Rich List billboards are not put up!

The Council has even lobbied the Outdoor Advertising Association to pass the message onto its members. The Association told us that the billboard companies are in ‘partnership’ with the Council – in that the Council dictate continued resource consents which the companies rely on. Naturally, billboard companies are reluctant to take on the Council’s heavies when they can veto future consents.

According to the industry association, the Council has never objected to an advertiser in this way. Clearly our Rich List got under Phil Goff’s skin!

Where to now?

I don’t know about you, but frankly I am appalled that the Council is using my ratepayer money to bully newspapers, and now billboard owners, so as to prevent us telling the public how the Council spends our money! 

What next? Will Phil Goff fly one of his highly paid staffers to Silicon Valley to demand Mark Zuckerberg ban our Facebook adverts too?? Already, the Town Hall Rich List has had 17,000 shares, comments, and reactions on Facebook.

Here’s the mock-up of one of the proposed billboards:

Phil Goff’s fibs

Phil Goff’s spin doctors are telling media companies that ‘most of the information in the Rich List is incorrect’. But we know for sure that isn’t true! The Council’s own audited financial information shows that there are 86 people paid more than $250,000. And even if we have the identities wrong for one or two of the 86 people, why haven’t we had a single person contact us to say that they were incorrectly put on the list?!

And if we are so wrong, why won’t the Council point to an error? It says a lot that the Mayor's Office is using such underhand tactics to try and undermine this effort. It shows the Council is really feeling the pressure. Good.

How we’ll fight back for you

Later this week our steering group is meeting to decide how to best get the message out. We’re still looking at other billboard options, letter drops, Facebook advertising, and combinations of all three. I’ll let you know once we’ve got everything lined up.

In the meantime, to chip in to our fighting fund to hold the Council to account for how it spends our money click here.

Thank you for your support.

 

May 04, 2020

Revealed: The Auckland Town Hall Rich List

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is pleased to present the inaugural Auckland Town Hall Rich List, revealing the names and salaries of the highest-paid staff at Auckland Council and its subsidiaries.

Click here to view the report.

This is an exercise in transparency and accountability. If someone is paid more than a Government Minister, ratepayers should at the very least know who they are and what they do.

Key findings:

  1. Eighty-six staff are paid more than $250,000.
  2. Fourty-eight staff are paid more than Mayor Phil Goff ($296,000) and seven are paid more than the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ($471,000).
  3. Seventy-one percent of identified rich listers are men. Of the six staff paid more than $500,000, all are men.
  4. Twenty-four of the rich listers are employees of Auckland Transport, 11 are from Watercare, six are from Regional Facilities Auckland, five are from ATEED, and five are from Panuku Development.

Research for the Rich List was undertaken in cooperation with the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, who ultimately plan to publish Rich Lists for councils across the country – a practice undertaken in Britain since 2007 by the UK TaxPayers’ Alliance.

The UK Rich List makes for interesting comparisons. Essex County Council, which has a population similar to Auckland – about 1.4 million – pays 28 staff salaries higher than NZ$250,000, compared to Auckland Council’s 86.

The bureaucrats named in our list aren’t just well-paid – they enjoy a level of job security that insulates them from the current pressures facing Aucklanders who fund these high salaries through rates and levies, irrespective of their ability to pay.

Compiling this list was not easy. The Council and its CCOs preferred to provide remuneration ‘bands’ rather than exact salaries, so we have used the midpoints of these bands. The CCOs also refused to provide exact job titles, meaning some extrapolation was required to match names with salaries. The methodology at the end of this report explains further.

So, while we would prefer the Council to publicise this kind of information itself with more detail, we are releasing our best effort now in the hope that it will spark debate within the public and around the Council table.

The release of the Rich List comes as ratepayers’ livelihoods are threatened by the fallout of COVID-19. Despite this, Auckland Council is considering yet another rate hike of 2.5 or 3.5 percent. Our message to the Mayor is to look at costs within council before squeezing ratepayers during an economic crisis.

We welcome early reports of salary cuts planned for Council CEOs, but the Town Hall Rich List demonstrates these cuts can and must go far deeper.

Here's a condensed version of the Town Hall Rich List we plan to run as double-page newspaper adverts across Auckland. Click here to view the list in full resolution.

Rich List preview

This effort was made possible by our 20,000+ members and generous donors across Auckland who share our mission for Reasonable Rates, Sensible Spending in our Super City. Click here to receive our updates, or here to chip-in to the campaign.

April 29, 2020

The report Auckland Council don't want you to see

UPDATE: The Town Hall Rich List is now out! Click here to see the report.

Over the last few weeks, your humble Ratepayers’ Alliance have been in a battle with the Council over a report our researchers have been preparing: the ‘Auckland Town Hall Rich List’ naming the 86 – yes 86! – Auckland Council bosses paid more than a quarter of a million dollars.

Here's a flavour of the top Town Hall Rich Listers…

And there are 82 more!

To put that in context, if the Minister of Employment, Hon. Willie Jackson, was paid by Auckland Council his remuneration would be too low to put him on the list.

If Auckland Council officials are going to be paid more than Ministers in Wellington, at the very least we should know who they are and what they do! After all, it is our ratepayer money they’re paid with.

But not according to Auckland Council. You see, the Council is going to extraordinary lengths to prevent us from publishing the report. The Mayor’s office is ringing around the media demanding that no one cover it, are getting their favoured journos to try and rubbish our efforts in advance of publication1, and now we understand they are even calling in the lawyers!

Think about that for a moment. Auckland Council are using your money to prevent you being told where your money is going.

Copied below is our most recent letter to the Council’s CEO – so you can judge for yourself.

Help us defend your right to know

No wonder Auckland Council don’t want the report published. It demonstrates just how overpaid the Council’s fat cats are. And unlike everyone else, no one working at Town Hall is worried about losing their jobs right now.

The Council says that our report is “an unacceptable intrusion into the privacy” of council bosses. We say that once you are pocketing more than a Cabinet Minister, ratepayers have the right know about it.

Every Auckland ratepayer should know where their money is going. If you agree, donate today to ensure the Council can’t keep this secret.

Only with sunshine can we disinfect Auckland Council’s bloated bureaucracy.


Stephen Town
Chief Executive
Auckland Council 

Dear Stephen,

Inaugural Auckland Town Hall Rich List

We acknowledge your letter regarding the imminent publication of our Auckland Town Hall Rich List.

Last week our staff emailed the individuals listed on the Rich List.  We asked them to correct or clarify any of the information as it pertained to them. To date, none have contacted us to object to the publication of the information – indeed, I understand you responded by email with a minor correction to your own information.

Our researchers put together the Rich List based on official information responses provided to us by the Council and its CCOs, along with annual reports, and job title listings on Council websites and public social media. Some extrapolation was required to match names with salary bands but in most cases this could be done with certainty. If we can do it, anyone can. It is merely presenting public information in a more effective way. We simply added the extra step of asking those listed for verification.

So we totally reject your assertion that the Rich List is an “unacceptable intrusion into [the] privacy” of the individuals listed. These aren’t frontline or lowly paid anonymous staff. Without exception, those listed are in senior positions paid $250,000 or more per year – more than many Ministers of the Crown, and Chief Executives of some government agencies.

The public interest, and ratepayers’ right to know where their money is spent, cannot depend on the specific job titles.  Once you are paid quarter of a million dollars the public has just as much right to know who you are, and what you do, as it has the right to know about the details of an equivalent remuneration package for a public sector CEO.  You appear to believe transparency should depend on the structure and organisation of the public sector. We reject that.

In addition, the marginal impact on privacy with public disclosure that an individual is paid between $300,000 and $320,000 (as is already the case) and a precise figure of say $309,571, is slight. This is the point in our reference to the earlier Ombudsman decision.

Around three years ago, we made similar submissions to WaterCare in regard to a request for precise remuneration of its senior executive team. We could use mid-points within salary bands and judgements based on seniority of staff and relative positions. We asked Water Care for the precise amounts. No member of WaterCare’s senior management group objected, and we were provided the precise amounts.

Rather than genuine concerns for privacy, we fear that your strong reaction is more likely explained by the political embarrassment Auckland Council must have in the share volume of staff on such high salaries. That is understandable. But we make no apology for publishing the collated information with full knowledge that many ratepayers will be outraged at what it shows.

This sort of scrutiny should be expected.  In Britain this debate is settled – our sister group, the UK TaxPayers' Alliance has been publishing its own Town Hall Rich List annually since 2007, and the sky has not fallen.

In Britain, public disclosure of specific salary information for highly paid employees was essential for gender equality groups to expose differences in gender pay at public sector organisations.  Without these sorts of efforts, the public outcry and corrections of the enormous pay disparities between male and female hosts working for the BBC would never have occurred. We are aware of separate efforts to uncover this sort of information for similar purposes in New Zealand. I understand Auckland Council has resisted those efforts too.

You will recall that there was strong reaction the first time we published our local government league tables, Ratepayers’ Report. Reactions within the sector even saw the President of your peak body, Dave Cull, emotively describe the Taxpayers’ Union as untruthful in public comments about the league tables – an allegation he later withdrew, apologised for, and made a significant payment to the Taxpayers’ Union in relation to.

Now that the dust has settled, councils around New Zealand use our annual league tables to benchmark performance and Stats NZ has adopted aspects of our research methodology on residential rates for the purpose of CPI calculations.

As with the league tables, we have provided the draft Town Hall Rich List data to Auckland Council for verification and feedback. If it's not accurate, then work with us to improve it - or accept that your lack of transparency forces us (and all ratepayers) to make extrapolations and informed guesses.  If it has errors (in particular if we have misidentified a staff member) tell us the specifics, so we can correct the report immediately.

But we are not going to hold off publication because of faux outrage, or vague claims that we have something wrong.

Summary

Without exception these individuals are paid more than many government ministers. They enjoy job security greater than just about every employee in the private sector right now. Their generous salaries are funded by the ratepayers we represent. Even your letter acknowledges an acceptance that there is a degree of public interest in transparency and accountability for the value the Council attributes to the carrying out of senior roles. Our report does little more than collate publicly available information on those values.

If you wish to provide clarification of the amounts (or, at least, inform your staff that they are permitted to engage with our researchers should they wish) please ensure we receive the information before mid-day Friday. We will be publishing shortly after that.

Yours sincerely,
Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance

April 22, 2020

Auckland Town Hall Rich List: Council told to ‘put up or shut up’

“Auckland Council need to clarify, or get out of the way,” says the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance responding to objections Auckland Council CEO Stephen Town has made about the imminent publication of the inaugural Auckland Town Hall Rich List.

The Alliance is releasing the correspondence from and to the Council in relation to Alliance researchers making attempts to error check the information before its publication.

“The Town Hall Rich List collates already publicly available information concerning the pay of staff over $250,000,” says Jo Holmes, the Alliance’s spokesperson. “For some of the staff the mid-points of $20,000 bands have had to be used, so of course we would ask whether those staff are willing to provide the exact figures.”

“All of these individuals are paid more than many Government Ministers. They enjoy job security greater than just about every employee in the private sector right now. Their generous salaries are funded by the ratepayers we represent. The Town Hall Rich List does little more than collate publicly available information on those values, and it sticks that the Council is trying to stop ratepayers from seeing where their money is going.”

The letter from Stephen Town is available here. The response from the Ratepayers’ Alliance is available here.

April 16, 2020

What we told Councillors today

I'm just off the phone having been talking to the Auckland Mayor and Councillors at today's emergency Council meeting/conference call. You can read precisely what I told them at the bottom of this email.

After listening with horror to last week's Council meeting where all of the public participants (including a ratepayer-funded business group!) argued that the Council should spend more of our money, we weren't going to let the same thing happen again. Last week rates weren't even mentioned! Most of the discussion was on how to spend on things such as electric buses, cycleways and 'digital projects' to ‘transform’ the economy of Auckland during COVID-19.

We were given five minutes this morning to make the case for ratepayers.

I have copied below my speech notes and have linked to the presentation we sent to the Councillors.

As more and more councils across the country step up and commit to zero-percent rate increases for 2020, we can’t let Auckland Council and Phil Goff continue ‘business as usual’.

Please take a moment to sign the petition calling for a nationwide rates freeze here.  

Thank you for your support.

Presentation to Auckland Council — 16 April 2020

Click image for PDF of slides. Note figures are $ million.Slide

Speaking notes

Good morning Your Worship, and Councillors, thank you for hearing from us this morning.  My name is Jo Holmes, I am the Spokesperson for Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance; with me is Jordan Williams, the Executive Director of our sister group, the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Unlike nearly every group you hear from at these meetings, we will be the one that is not asking you to spend more money, in fact to the contrary – with so many households having to cut their cloth to the new economic reality, so must the Council.

We wish to speak to two points – the first concerning equitable pay cuts in the council to recognise the seriousness of the current financial situation; and the second about a rates freeze to avoid putting an even higher burden onto ratepayers, many of which are losing their jobs.

We congratulate and commend the Mayor’s leadership in taking a six month 20% pay cut, and those councillors who have agreed to do the same.  This is something our groups have been calling for, albeit for a 12 month period.

But the same has to apply to the leaders within the council bureaucracy. Auckland Council pays 2,831 staff more than $100,000. Two hundred and eighteen are paid more than $200,000, and 60 are paid more than $300,000. These staff don't just have massive pay packets – they also have the luxury of job security.

I looked this morning at comparable figures in the UK. There the local authority with the greatest number of employees whose remuneration was in excess of £100,000  – or about $200,000 NZ Dollar was Essex council with 35 employees. Essex Council serves 1.4million – about the same as Auckland.  Compare Essex’s 35 to Auckland’s 218.

We are soon to publish the Auckland Council Town Hall Rich List – listing these officials.  It would be great to see many of them volunteer to take the lead of the Mayor and share some of the economic burden that is falling on ratepayers right now.

Rates Freeze

Since the outbreak of the pandemic our Alliance and the Union have run a joint campaign calling on Councils around the country to place a freeze on rates.

We are extremely concerned that Auckland Council is still in a ‘business as usual’ mindset.

Unlike takes paid to central government, mostly on income, spending and profits, rates do not reflect a household's cashflow or ability to pay. That means councils are not well placed to 'stimulate’ the economy. To take more money out of Aucklanders' pockets in rates to ‘stimulate’ the Auckland economy would be a false economy.

It would be far better to get off the backs of ratepayers.

And that applies to targeted rates too. The accommodation provider targeted rate needs to go if we are to see much of that sector survive this year.

But more broadly we are here to today to call on you to freeze rates in order to ensure ratepayers – many of whom are now unemployed or facing cuts in hours – are not burdened with additional costs in the coming year.

We understand this will require Council to make cuts in spending in some areas – particularly since other sources of income will be under threat. Unfortunately, any other pathway will simply saddle ratepayers with higher costs when they can least afford it.

We have a number of suggestions of what is no longer needed, but the most obvious way to cut costs is payroll.

Without naming names, the claims made year after year that we need even higher rates to cover infrastructure investment have been dishonest when you consider that while rates income has increased 30.4% between 2012 and 2019, staff costs have increased 39.1% over the same period.

With the Government willing to fund shovel ready capital projects, the capital expenditure is a bit of a red herring in terms of rates. The real question is when are you going to cut wasteful or low priority spending so that ratepayers know that you stand with them, not against them?

Christchurch City Council is the only council in New Zealand that has higher liabilities per ratepayer than Auckland Council.  Mayor Lianne Dalziel has found the room to commit to a rates freeze.  If she can do it, so can you.

We are happy to take questions.

ENDS

December 16, 2019

Councillors put on notice over Pledge to ratepayers

The Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance has written to two Auckland Councillors warning them of their obligations to ratepayers under the Ratepayer Protection Pledge.

Crs Sharon Stewart and Tracy Mulholland both promised to oppose measures that would increase rates by more than 2.5 percent per annum. Despite this, last week they voted to advance Phil Goff's Annual Budget proposal to consultation. The proposal includes a 3.5 percent rate hike.

Here is the letter we sent the two Councillors:

We note that Cr Christine Fletcher, who also agreed to uphold the Pledge, voted against the proposed Budget. We applaud her choice to stand clearly on the side of ratepayers.

November 18, 2019

Revealed: Quay St's cost blowout and torn up cycleway

Quay St

The cost of the Quay Street beautification project has blown out by $13 million, reveals the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance. This revelation has been highlighted in The Herald.

A year ago, the Quay Street Enhancement’s reported cost was $59 million, but information newly obtained under the Official Information Act confirms the budget now totals $72 million.

The narrowing of Quay Street has caused traffic chaos, and now we see the whole project developing into a headache for ratepayers. Construction is set to continue for another year, so we will continuing to monitor the project for further blowouts.

There's also this embarassing detail: the Council loves spending our money on cycleways so much that it's built the same one twice over.

The $72 million figure excludes the cost of the previous Quay St cycleway. That cycleway, opened to fanfare in 2016 at a cost of $2.85 million, is now being ripped up and replaced as part of the current enhancement.

Here is the 2016 cycleway closed for demolition:

Cycleway

The Council’s outgoing “Design Champion” Ludo Campbell-Reid has since claimed the 2016 cycleway was a “temporary low spec project” and that the new one is “the full Monty”.

Campbell-Reid's attempt to dismiss the previous cycleway is ridiculous. The Prime Minister, Len Brown, and the Minister of Transport all attended its opening. It was major commitment of ratepayer funds and its demolition is an embarrassment for Auckland Council's planning department.

September 26, 2019

Ratepayers' Alliance releases 2019 Voting Guide

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance has now released its voting guide for the 2019 Mayoral and Council elections, showing who has signed the Ratepayer Protection Pledge.

The Pledge is a cast iron promise to Auckland ratepayers. It states that:

“I will not vote for any measures which increase the total average burden of rates, levies including the regional fuel tax, and other compulsory Council charges, by more than 2% per annum in aggregate.”

Mayoral candidates that have signed the Pledge:

Candidates

  • ✔️ Susanna Kruger
  • ✔️ Craig Lord
  • ✔️ John Tamihere
  • ✔️ Glen Snelgar
  • ✔️ Peter Vaughan

Incumbent ❌Phil Goff and all other Mayoral candidates have refused to sign the Pledge.

Council candidates that have signed the Pledge:

  • ✔️ Anne Degia-Pala (Whau)
  • ✔️ Will Maxwell-Steele (Waitemata and Gulf)
  • ✔️ Sharon Stewart (Howick)
  • ✔️ Veronica Turner (Manurewa-Papakura)

While ✔️Christine Fletcher (Albert-Eden-Roskill) and ✔️Tracy Mulholland (Whau) are this year bound by C&R’s refusal to allow its candidates to sign campaign pledges, they have each given the Alliance a personal assurance that they would not in any case support rates increases above 2%.

Who kept their promise from the 2016 Pledge?

The exact wording of the 2016 Pledge was: “I [candidate’s name] pledge to all Aucklanders that I will not vote for any measures which increase the total average burden of rates, levies, and other compulsory Council charges, more than 2% per annum.”

Six current Councillors signed the Pledge in 2016:

  • ✔️✔️ Sharon Stewart signed the Pledge, and successfully held to it. She has signed again in 2019.
  • ✔️✔️ Christine Fletcher signed the Pledge, and successfully held to it. She has committed to a rates freeze in 2019.
  • ✔️ Greg Sayers signed the Pledge, and successfully held to it. He has not signed in 2019. He has been elected unopposed.
  • ✔️ Mike Lee signed the Pledge, and successfully held to it. He has not signed in 2019.
  • ❌ Desley Simpson signed the Pledge, but broke it.
  • ❌ Wayne Walker signed the Pledge, but broke it.
  • ❌ John Watson signed the Pledge, but broke it.

What about the other candidates?

If a Mayoral or Council candidate is not named above, then they have not signed the Pledge.

September 23, 2019

Ratepayer Protection Pledge Update

As voting papers start arriving in letterboxes, we are glad to confirm that most of the leading Mayoral candidates have signed our Ratepayer Protection Pledge, limiting rate hikes to 2% per annum:

Mayoral candidates

Our Pledge is a cast iron promise to Auckland ratepayers. It states that:

I will not vote for any measures which increase the total average burden of rates, levies including the regional fuel tax, and other compulsory Council charges, by more than 2% per annum in aggregate.

Thanks to the Pledge, voters can identify ratepayer-friendly candidates from the crowded field.

But “C&R” dragging the chain

Incredibly, Citizens and Ratepayers – the main centre-right ticket in Auckland – has told its candidates for Council not to sign our Pledge!

C&R
C&R are running billboards and online adverts claiming they'll "halt rate hikes", but without signing the Pledge, how can we trust they’ll do what they say?

Tell C&R that if they want your vote, they need to sign the Pledge

In 2016, C&R Councillors Desley Simpson and Christine Fletcher signed the pledge.

Chris Fletcher now running as  John Tamihere's candidate for Deputy Mayor.

Tamihere has signed the Ratepayer Protection Pledge, but we understand C&R are stopping Cr Fletcher from doing the same. What is going on?

Will you take 30 seconds to tell C&R candidates to sign the Ratepayer Protection Pledge?

We've made it easy for you to email the C&R candidates to tell them to turn words into action. If they mean what they say on their billboards, there should be no problem standing with the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance and our mission of Reasonable Rates, Sensible Spending.

Ask C&R to show they mean their slogans and will commit to capping rate hikes to 2%.

Tell them you'll only vote for C&R if they sign the pledge.

--> Click here to send email <--

PS. In the next few days we will be releasing our full voting guide - with the full list of who does, and doesn't, stand for a more affordable and efficient Super City Council.