News

August 23, 2019

Ratepayer Protection Pledge launched

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

Scrap the ‘gardening grants’ for leafy-suburb property owners

Tree graphic

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: [1] [2] [3] [4].

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

Results of pre-election survey

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%.

Mayoral graph

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.

Rates

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.

Infrastructure graph

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

Revealed: ATEED’s $175,000 tennis splurge a backspin on ratepayers

ASB Classic

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

Annual Report summary: More budget blowouts at Auckland Council

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

2018 Ratepayers' Report is now available

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).

Cap-ex vs op-ex

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

Ratepayers' Report banner

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.

 

August 20, 2018

ATEED gives away $18,900 worth of Adele tickets

Adele graphic

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance can reveal that ATEED gave away 60 tickets (worth $18,900*) to Adele concerts last year.

Documents released under the LGOIMA show the Council received the tickets as part of their $100,000 sponsorship of the three concerts. 16 were given to Auckland Council and ATEED staff and guests, with another 44 given to ‘External business growth partners or key stakeholders’.

Email correspondence released shows that this included journalists from organisations like The Spinoff, TVNZ, the NZ Herald, and Bauer Media.

We thought ATEED’s hosting of businesspeople at the ASB Classic was indulgent, but this is bigger. Ratepayer-funded tickets are being used for treating: a leg up with celebrities, friendly media, and partners. Where’s the value for ratepayers in that?

It wouldn’t have been difficult to simply auction of these tickets, returning the profit to ratepayers.

Instead, we see more of the disturbing practice of schmoozing ‘stakeholders’ on the ratepayer’s dollar. When this extends to buttering up journalists who are meant to hold the Council to account, it actually has a corrosive effect on transparency and democracy.

*Each ticket had a face value of $315 – see page 77 of the below.

August 06, 2018

Goff's giant mirror cracks

Over the weekend, Auckland Council's new piece of art mirror which originally had a budget of $80,000, but cost ratepayers $260,000, cracked.

But Council says there’s nothing to see here…

Auckland Council’s Arts and Culture Manager Richard McWha said the cracks were "not unexpected and typical of many such art installations". He told the Herald that "After installation, there has been some minor separation between the brass and the substrate, most likely due to some expansion after initial exposure to the elements, resulting in what appears to be cracks."

What claptrap. Who erects a mirror 30 feet in the air expecting it to need repairing a week later? Did no one think it would be exposed to the elements?!

If Phil Goff wonders why we can't afford better infrastructure, he should look in the mirror!

Click here to email Mr McWha and the Mayor.

Tell them what you think about your money being used for the mirror.

 

July 06, 2018

The War on Council Waste: Battlefield guide launched

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance has today released The War on Council Waste: A battlefield guide, printing copies for its financial members, 20,000 supporters, and key stakeholders in the Super City.

We are distributing this pocket-sized factbook for Auckland ratepayers to know how the Council is spending their money. The guide will feature on the coffee tables of ratepayers across Auckland.

The average Auckland household now pays $1,300 more in Council expenses compared to when the Super City was founded. The wasteful spending and broken promises highlighted in this guide help to explain why.

Key facts in the Council guide:

  • Inflated spending – the Council is raking in 46% more than five years ago.
  • A growing rates burden – the average household pays $1,300 more now than when the Super City was formed.
  • Costly debt – the average household now pays $850 a year just to pay interest on the Council’s debt.
  • New examples of waste – the Council now spends $45 million a year on communications staff (i.e. spin doctors).
  • Broken promises – Pre-election, Phil Goff said he would cut waste and ‘do more with less’ at the Council.  Now, he is charging Aucklanders new levies and taxes.

Copies of the booklet are available on request, and free for those who join and donate to the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance at www.ratepayers.nz/donate.