November 18, 2019
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:
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
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:
✔️ 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
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:
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 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.
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.
September 20, 2019
Auckland Council now officially has the highest residential rates in New Zealand, reveals the 2019 Ratepayers’ Report, available at www.ratepayersreport.nz.
Auckland Ratepayers Alliance spokeswoman Jo Holmes says: “For the first time, Auckland Council has taken top spot for extracting more rates from householders than any other local council. This is grim news, but unsurprising considering Mayor Phil Goff’s introduction of new targeted rates and the interim transport levy.”
The 2019 report analyses figures from the 2017/18 financial year. Average residential rates at Auckland Council rose from $3136 in 2016/17 to $3386.64. “This is a $251 or 8% rise, compared to the nation-wide average rate hike of $90, or 3.9%.”
“The failure to keep rates under control, along with Phil Goff’s disingenuous attempt to hide rate hikes in separate charges, will loom large in voters’ minds this year. Candidates for Council and Mayor must outline exactly how they’ll rein in the Council’s bloated operational spending, and those running on rates relief need to make this commitment explicit by signing the Ratepayer Protection Pledge.”
Delving further into the report helps to explain why Auckland ranks so highly. Council liabilities now total $21,941 per household – the second highest in the country, behind only Christchurch City Council.
“An obvious place to cut spending is staffing: the report reveals that an incredible 2,473 staff are now paid more than $100,000.”
A small part of Auckland Council’s rates bill can be attributed to its status as a unitary council, meaning it funds certain functions that would otherwise be handled by a regional authority.
Total full-time equivalent (FTE) staff including Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs): 10,259, up from 10,063 in 2016/17.
Total staff (including CCOs) earning over $100,000: 2,473, up from 2,250 in 2016/17.
Number of households per FTE Staff (including CCOs): 56.24.
CEO Stephen Town: $691,154
Nick Hill, Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development: $435,000
Chris Brooks, Regional Facilities Auckland: $483,321
Roger MacDonald, Panuku Development Auckland: $588,976
Mayor Phil Goff: $273,906
Deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore: $154,332
Average Councillor remuneration (excluding Mayor and Deputy): $110,636
The report also assesses councils’ Audit and Risk Committees. “These committees are essential to ensure millions of ratepayer dollars are handled prudently.”
“Auckland Council’s Audit and Risk Committee did not meet the five recommended criteria for prudent financial oversight. Specifically, there are no lawyers or accountants on the committee. We urge the Council to consider bringing these specialists to the table to ensure Auckland ratepayers know that money isn’t being thrown at pet projects without proper oversight.”
The Ratepayers’ Report has been released in partnership with the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union. Information on its methodology is available here.
August 23, 2019
The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance has launched the “Ratepayer Protection Pledge”, which commits Mayoral and Council candidates to no more than 2% annual rate hikes over the next Council term, and has written to all Mayoral and Council candidates asking them to sign. The pledge will provide clarity for voters over where candidates stand on the issue of increasing rates, levies, and other charges.
Ratepayers are telling us that this election needs to be about a return to the basics: reasonable rates, sensible spending, and personal integrity. While countless special interest groups lobby candidates to make new spending commitments, the Ratepayer Protection Pledge provides balance, ensuring candidates explain how their promises affect the ratepayers who will fund their salary.
The pledge will also allow us to expose those candidates who break their promises to ratepayers once elected. The importance of keeping promises has been brought into stark relief by Mayor Phil Goff, who campaigned on cutting waste and keeping rate hikes below 2.5%, only to blow that promise with new targeted rates and a regional fuel tax.
The pledge reads:
“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 including the regional fuel tax, and other compulsory Council charges, by more than 2% per annum in aggregate.”
We encourage ratepayers to contact their local Council candidates, and all Mayoral candidates, to ask if they will sign the Ratepayer Protection Pledge.
Contact details for candidates are available here.
July 22, 2019
Orakei Local Board’s grants distributed to help property owners prune their trees is a perfect example of wasteful spending, says the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance.
Orakei Local Board has approved 15 “tree protection” grants since 2016, averaging $710 each, received by applicants seeking to prune large trees on their properties. Examples include $1,380 for reshaping a Pin Oak, $1,000 for pruning a Liquid Amber tree, and $1,000 for pruning a Camphor Laurel tree. Details are visible in meeting minutes here:    .
The Local Board needs to seriously reconsider its priorities if it thinks this is a sensible use of ratepayer money. Gardening and tree pruning is clearly the responsibility of the property owner, not ratepayers who expect their money to be used on vital core services.
These aren’t even necessarily scheduled or native trees. They just happen to be on the property of people cheeky enough to ask ratepayers to cover their gardener.
These types of grants benefit a select minority of usually wealthy Aucklanders at the expense of the general ratepayer. Orakei Local Board should stick to its knitting, maintaining footpaths and parks used by everyone, not beautifying private property.
July 15, 2019
On 18 June, Ratepayers' Alliance supporters received a survey about their priorities and preferences for the coming mayoral election. The following summarises the 2,200 responses.
The most popular Mayoral Candidate is the “none of the above” option, with 51.6% of preferences. This is followed by John Tamihere at 24.3%, John Palino at 15.9%, Phil Goff at 4.0%, and Craig Lord at 3.2%.
When forced to choose between Phil Goff and John Tamihere, 80.4% of respondents to that question prefer Mr Tamihere – however, many respondents skipped this question or indicated in a later comment that they were not pleased by the choice.
We asked supporters to respond to a series of statements on a sliding scale, with 0 meaning "strongly disagree" and 100 meaning "strongly agree".
"Rates are too high for the services received"
Average score: 81
"Auckland Council is responsive to my concerns"
Average score: 22
"I would prefer an increase in rates rather than an increase in fuel tax"
Average score: 35
"I support Auckland Council’s facilitation of e-scooters (such as Lime)"
Average score: 35
"Speed limits in the Auckland CBD should be reduced to 40 kilometres per hour"
Average score: 30
"Speed limits in rural areas within greater Auckland should be reduced from 100 kilometres per hour to 80 kilometres per hour"
Average score: 28
"I support the Council's proposal to introduce weekly food scrap waste curbside collection, even if it does reduce general waste collection from weekly to fortnightly"
Average score: 32
"I get good value for money for the rates I pay"
Average score: 17
We also divided these results based on Ward and Local Board areas. The results were overall consistent across location, with a few variations.
We asked supporters about rate hikes - specifically, how such hikes should be capped. 83% of respondents supported either a total rates freeze, or a cap tied to the rate of inflation.
We also asked supporters to rank their preference for proposed infrastructure investments. The proposed light rail (tram) to the airport was very unpopular, with only cycleways ranking lower when compared to competing infrastructure investments. The most preferred infrastructure investment (of those listed) was a second harbour crossing.
Respondents were also asked whether or not Ports of Auckland should be relocated: opinion was split 49-51.
Finally, we asked supporters (using a blank response field) about the qualities sought in a Mayoral candidate. The most common response was “honesty”, or a variation thereof.
January 14, 2019
Today we have released information obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act showing that some $175,000 of ratepayer money has been used to subsidise the ASB Classic.
Auckland Council’s decision to fund the ASB Classic through its economic development arm ATEED is an outrageous use of ratepayers’ money. The ASB Classic has been hugely successful in recent years, with plenty of media coverage. Why can’t the large profitable bank with its name on the event pay for the event? Auckland Ratepayers are being ripped off.
In response to our information request, Auckland Council sung the praises of the ASB Classic, describing its economic impact on the Auckland region. If it’s so successful, why does it need any financial help from Auckland ratepayers? Next year the ASB Classic should stand on its own two feet.
On the general issue of local government funding of sports events, Jordan Williams, spokesperson for the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union adds, "Across the country local government tourism agencies are splashing the cash on events and sponsorship of questionable value. Although councils claim the money is essential for economic development, whenever our researchers have asked for disciplined cost benefit economic analysis council have been found wanting. In our opinion, ratepayers deserve better than that."
October 10, 2018
Auckland Council has revealed more budget blowouts in its 2017/18 Annual Report.
The Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance is working through the documents (some 651 pages across four volumes). So far, key takeaways from the Financial Statements are:
- Council debt has increased to $12.66 billion — an increase of 9.3 percent, and is significantly greater than the budgeted increase in debt of 5.5 percent. This debt equates to $23,118 per ratepayer (residential plus commercial).
- As a result, Auckland Council spent $472 million financing its debt — $7 million more than budgeted.
- Auckland Council’s day-to-day (operating) expenses of $3.88 billion exceeded its annual budget by $77 million.
- The total number of staff has increased from 10,063 to 10,259. Staff on salaries of more than $100,000 have increased by 223 to 2,473.
These inconvenient trends are conspicuously absent from the Council’s own summaries – that’s why we put together our publications holding the council to account.
Despite the grim realities of Council finances, CEO Stephen Town told media that the Council is 'operating in a prudent, effective manner'.
Auckland Council clearly can’t stick to its own budgets, which already allow for ballooning spending, debt, and rates. Sadly, actual reductions in debt, let alone rates, appear to be impossible under political leadership which refuses to deliver on cost control and efficiency.
September 09, 2018
Auckland Council pays more in interest than post-quake Christchurch
The 2018 edition of our New Zealand-wide local government league tables is now live. Ratepayers’ Report has been published jointly with our friends at the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union and is bad news for Auckland ratepayers.
By comparing Auckland Council's performance and financial position to other councils across New Zealand (on a per-ratepayer basis) we see that Auckland ratepayers pay even more in interest than ratepayers in post-earthquake Christchurch City.
Even with historically low interest rates, Auckland Council now spends $794 per ratepayer, per year, just on covering the interest for its $11.6 billion of borrowings.
High debt is matched by the second highest rates in the country
In addition to the huge debt, we're also paying huge rates. The report shows that we face the second highest residential rates in the country (averaging $3,136 per household last year) – and that doesn't include the new fuel tax!
And the money's not going where you think it is
Phil Goff tries to justify high rates and high debt by saying it's needed for infrastructure. But as exposed in our 'Battlefield Guide' to Council waste, most of the Council's higher revenue is being wasted on operational expenses (mostly staffing costs).
In short, while the politicians claim they need higher rates and new fuel taxes to invest in infrastructure, it is the day-to-day operating expenses that are growing while capital investment is relatively flat.
And it is no surprise. Among the Council's army of staff, 2,250 are paid over $100,000 – that's 22 percent of the total.
See for yourself
Click here to log in to Ratepayers' Report and cut through the spin to see how Auckland Council performs against councils across the country. The report covers average residential rates, debt, assets, staffing costs, CEO remuneration, financial safeguards, and more.
Once logged in, click 'Auckland Council' on any of the league tables for the full picture.