Exclusive to members and supporters of the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance, today we are releasing the first Ratepayers' Alliance-Curia Poll covering this year's mayoralty election, and other issues on the super city.
Only 3% of Aucklanders support higher spending on cycleways, according to a new poll.
The scientific poll of 1,000 New Zealanders was conducted by Curia Market Research and asked, On the whole, do you think your local council is spending too much on cycleways, or too little? Or does the current level of spending seem about right?
Forty-two percent of New Zealanders think local councils are spending too much on cycleways. Only 10% of respondents think councils are spending too little on cycleways, while 36% think current spending is about right.
However, a regional breakdown found that a majority (52%) of Aucklanders think Auckland Council is spending too much on cycleways and 28% think current spending is about right. Only 3% think too little is being spent. The results pour scorn on claims by the cycling lobby and Auckland Transport that there is wide public support for the Council to spend billions more on cycleways over the next decade.
It is important to note that the Auckland results are based on a smaller sample size of 273 responses with a higher margin of error. But even so, the poll confirms what many of us have long believed. Auckland Council has been captured by a special interest group who represent less than 10% of Aucklanders. The overwhelming majority (80%) believe that either too much has been spent or enough has been spent.
Officials have revealed that Auckland Council spent $320,000 on 50 art and lighting installations for the “City of Colour” event, while ratepayer-funded Heart of the City spent $60,000 to promote it. The Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance is calling for mayoral candidates Viv Beck and Councillor Efeso Collins to please explain.
Documents released under the Local Official Information and Meetings Act reveal that Council staff have spent $320,000 on the production, installation, and maintenance of temporary artwork for an immersive light trail.
Mayoral candidate Viv Beck’s ratepayer-funded Heart of the City also pledged $60,000 to promote the event. Staff from the Council’s Development Programme Office claim that the sculptures and light displays are designed to bring people back to the city.
Ratepayers’ Alliance spokesman Josh Van Veen said, “Who is going to make a special trip to the city to look at an inflatable cactus garden or canopy of ribbons? There is a cost of living crisis. Auckland households and small businesses are struggling to pay the bills.”
“Councillors need to seriously reflect on whether this is the kind of gimmick they had in mind when voting for the Recovery Budget last year. We're now looking down the barrel of a $175 million deficit in the next financial year. The Council can barely afford to pay for essential services.”
“But maybe the real question is why the Council needs a Development Programme Office when it has given Eke Panuku, the economic development agency, an annual budget of nearly $40 million?”
The Ratepayers’ Alliance is challenging mayoral candidates Viv Beck and Councillor Efeso Collins to go on record and defend the City of Colour event.
Today I'm introducing our new Campaigns Manager, Josh Van Veen. Josh started with us ten days ago, but is already exposing Auckland Council in a way the mainstream media are not. As you'll read below, Josh exposes that the amount Auckland Transport plans to spend on new cycleways equals an incredible $6,200 for every household.
With new rates, mounting debt, Auckland Transport running out of money, and Nanaia Mahuta's plan to steal our "3 Waters" assets, the work of the Ratepayers' Alliance and our mission of Reasonable Rates and Sensible Spending in our Super City has never been more crucial.
I asked Josh to provide some commentary on the Council as he starts in his new role. Here's what he asked me to forward:
The key problem with Auckland Council is that too many decisions are made by unelected bureaucrats without genuine public consultation, leading to tremendous waste, and incompetence that would not be tolerated anywhere else. I know this because I've spent a decade working in the public sector, including for a Council-Controlled Organisation. I decided to leave my role in local government and join the Ratepayers' Alliance because I was fed up with seeing grossly overpaid middle managers run the Council like a corporate playground.
Just how bad is the financial situation at Auckland Council?
In February, officials revealed that Auckland Council's debt has reached $10.5 billion and there is a projected shortfall of $85 million for the 2022/23 financial year. Astonishingly, the word ‘debt’ appeared only once in the public consultation document that went out for feedback in March.
To put Mr Goff's legacy of $10.5 billion of debt in perspective, that is the equivalent of a $21,050 overdraft in the letterbox of every single Auckland household.
Unfortunately, most ratepayers were too busy balancing their household finances to notice the public consultation which passed with almost no media attention. Less than 1% of Aucklanders submitted - and most of those were the boxed-in questionnaire response submissions (which, as we know, the officials prepare to ensure that only those things they want ratepayers to focus on - such as new cycleway - are included.
Councillor Desley Simpson (Ōrākei), who is Phil Goff's Chair of his Finance and Performance Committee, said the 1% result was “pleasing”. I bet it was! This is exactly the kind of fly by night consultation the bureaucrats rely on to get sign off from the politicians. Of course, the mounting debt reflects very poorly on Ms Simpson and Mr Goff's financial stewardship over the last 6 years.
Ms Simpson sells herself as fiscally prudent - representing the Ōrākei ward's blue ribbon leafy suburbs of Remuera, St Johns, Mission Bay, and Kohimarama – but her voting record says otherwise...
Now the Council plans to spend $6200 per household on new cycleways
The $1.7 billion is in addition to $306 million of funding allocated to cycling last year, and more than $1 billion of projects already underway. In total that adds up to $6,200 per household on cycleways.
You really couldn't make this up. The spending is unfunded - I was in the room when Mayor Goff literally said "I don't know where the $1.7 billion is going to come from" - but he voted for it anyway!
With this sort of attitude is it any wonder that Auckland Transport is already running out of money and might not be able to maintain public transport at current levels.
The elephant in the room: just 1% of travel is on a bike
But here's the thing, cycling accounts for just 1% of the distance travelled in Auckland. Even with this massive investment, Auckland Transport expects that number to only increase to 7% by the 2030s (even that is being optimistic). Unlike the Copenhagen dream the cycle advocates sell, Auckland is not flat. It's also spread out.
The arrogance of Auckland Transport on display...
As you can see Auckland Council continues to be the poster child of fiscal irresponsibility. But it’s even worse than that. During the Town Hall meeting, we learnt that AT officials deliberately withheld the business case from elected councillors until 8:30pm the night before the $1.7 billion cycle plan vote.
...and the claim from the Mayor that billion dollar "business cases" being voted on don't need to be read by councillors!
But the most extraordinary revelation came when Mayor Goff and Councillor Chris Darby (North Shore), who chairs the Mayor's Planning Committee, reassured their colleagues that it is unusual for elected members to read business cases, as they are ‘technical documents’! Jesus wept.
This blatant attempt to ignore good governance and process was challenged by some councillors, but unfortunately still succeeded. Thirteen councillors voted in favour of the business case without having studied it in detail.
Seven councillors abstained - including centre-right "C&R" councillors Christine Fletcher (Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa) and Desley Simpson.
Unlike the Councillors, your humble Ratepayers' Alliance has read the billion dollar business case
Had the Mayor and Councillors read the business case, they would have seen that AT says there is already a $20 billion shortfall in funding for infrastructure. You must ask: if the money isn’t there, why are AT officials spending a fortune on consultants and planning activities for infrastructure that they know there isn't the money to build?
Furthermore, why are they doing it at the expense of the public transport system and roads that Aucklanders actually use? And why are Councillors loading up on projects they know will lead to stratospheric rates increases in years to come?
The cycleway blowout is just the beginning. In a Council election year, the Ratepayers' Alliance will be working to ensure you know which councillors have consistently voted for big-spending and even higher rates. They can fool some of the people some of the time. But they can’t fool all the people all the time. It's time to reclaim local democracy for Auckland, and I'm looking forward to doing my part to make it happen!
Thank you for your support,
Aucklanders' ability to freely use and enjoy the Hauraki Gulf is at risk.
This is because the Hauraki Gulf Forum, a consultative and advocacy body established under the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act, is about to vote to remove elected councillors and in their place establish an iwi controlled model. If this goes ahead 2.2 million residents in and around the Hauraki Gulf will lose their ability for democratic accountability. Councils and elected officials won't even be able to ensure your ongoing access to these waterways and boatramps.
This proposal will impact recreational fishing, boating, and swimming in some beaches and could be a barrier to businesses who make their livelihood on the Gulf.
Right now a majority of the Hauraki Gulf Forum’s members, which also includes Ministerial representatives, as well as iwi representatives, are elected Councillors. This is about to change.
The newly formed “Gulf Users Group” has launched a campaign to protect democratic accountability in the Gulf. We are asking Aucklanders to consider signing their petition and back the cause via www.GulfUsers.org.nz
The Forum is proposing to ask Government to change its composition to that of 50-50 co-governance authority with mana whenua, and for elected Councillors to be removed. It is proposed that this new Authority develop its own statutory plans that will overrule council policies and even central government rule for all matters in respect of the Gulf.
Regional Parks also at risk
This will mean that like Lake Waikaremoana, the Auckland volcanic cones and the gems accessible to the public could be cut off at a whim. Auckland Council is also consulting on a Regional Park Draft Management Plan that proposes shifting authority for Regional Parks that border the Gulf to the Forum. It would mean decisions on access to up to 21 of the 28 Regional Parks currently owned by Auckland ratepayers would be controlled by the co-governed Forum.
Some say a co-governance model is in the best interest of the Gulf. Today, Te Urewera, Lake Waikaremoana, and its Great Walk are under a co-governance model. This was established with the best intentions and assurances from Government that access would remain the same. In practice, access to the park, walk and lake has been severely restricted.
We can't give up democratic control of ratepayer assets
Thank you for your support.
P.S We're backing this campaign because fundamentally here at the Ratepayers' Alliance we are democrats. The gulf proposal is totally inconsistent with democracy and accountability. Click here to support the cause.
Auckland Transport has spent $121,000 pointing out pedestrian shortcuts through the central city, the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance can reveal.
$29,000 was spent pasting images of feet on footpaths, and $72,000 was spent on 'activations and promotions' which involved paying people in juvenile costumes to dance around sandwich boards and play hopscotch.
Cut-throughs like St Kevin's arcade and Vulcan Lane are hardly hidden secrets that need flashy promotional videos. While pedestrians and motorists alike struggle to navigate a sea of orange road cones, the Council is busy patting itself on the back for the city's decades-old laneways.
This is part of a continued pattern of Auckland Council wasting money on frivolous aesthetic experiments on roads and footpaths. Aucklanders wondering where their ever-increasing rate bills go deserve real improvement of services, not indulgent promotion campaigns.
The 2021 edition of Ratepayers’ Report confirms that Auckland Council is charging the second highest rates in the country, with an average bill of $3,599 per rating unit.
Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance spokesperson Jo Holmes says, “There is no good justification for Auckland’s disproportionately high rates. Higher rates are not and should not be seen as inevitable. Auckland Council should be taking cues from more efficient councils to ease the burden on ratepayers.”
“The average residential rate for Auckland is now $3,599, more than $1,000 greater than the average nationwide average residential rate of $2,572. This is an increase of $130 from last year, compared to the nationwide average of $111.”
“In fact, Auckland Council's rates bills are now so high that Wellington and Christchurch City Councils are more than $800 cheaper than Auckland's. Smaller rural councils, such as Buller District charge half what Phil Goff's Council charges us.”
“The formation of the Super City was supposed to save ratepayers money. But where is the efficiency that was promised? Rates are a payment for services, and Aucklanders definitely aren't getting value for money.”
“Other findings from the Ratepayers’ Report make for concerning reading and go some way toward explaining why we pay so much in rates. 3,161 Council staff are paid more than $100,000 – that’s an increase of 330 people in 12 months. And the Council has been spending $811 per household just paying down the interest on its debt.”
“Mayor Phil Goff has also maxed out the credit card. The Council's liabilities now totals $29,611 for every Auckland household – and that doesn't even include the effects of Phil Goff's "emergency budget" last year, or the more recently approved 10-year budget.”
The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is condemning Auckland Council’s vote today to increase rates by 43% over the next decade. Ratepayers’ Alliance spokesperson Jo Holmes says:
“Once again, the Council has taken the easier option of digging deeper into ratepayers’ pockets instead of finding meaningful savings elsewhere.”
“Phil Goff claims this is a ‘recovery budget’ - but most of the extra money is going to the Council’s inflated operating expenses. The only ‘recovery’ will be of those who faint when they open their rates bill.”
“We commend the five Councillors who voted against the 5% increase to rates this year. It is a shame to see that, of the three C&R Councillors who are meant to stand for lower rates and better value for money, Cr Christine Fletcher was the only one to uphold her promise to voters.”
The Ratepayers’ Alliance is labelling the decision to spend $38,000 on a ratepayer-funded junket a slap in the face to Aucklanders whose rates are set to rise 5%.
Spokesperson Monique Poirier says “Auckland Council’s decision to send 16 representatives to the LGNZ conference, instead of four, and at a cost of $2,410 per head, epitomises the culture of waste at the Council.”
“Sending a delegation four times the required size is a shining example of the Mayor’s total inability to cut wasteful spending. The fact that he thinks sending less people would be seen as an ‘arrogant statement of disregard’ shows his blatant disrespect for ratepayers. Since when did the opinion of conference attendees matter more than that of the ratepayers he is accountable to?”
“Councillor Desley Simpson is bang on when she says that the Council has ‘absolutely gone over the line’ in the context of its $1 billion hole.”
“The Council should be focused on slashing wasteful spending, not splashing out on a social event in Blenheim disguised as a conference.”
The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is labelling a planned 11 percent rise in Auckland Museum staff costs, courtesy of the ratepayer, as an out of touch assault on ratepayers’ pockets. Alliance spokesperson, Monique Poirier, says:
“Given the current economic climate, it’s disgraceful that the museum is even considering increasing salaries. It should be looking at ways to reduce costs for ratepayers, not increase them by $2 million.”
“And the salaries are just the start. Overall costs for the museum are set to rise dramatically. The museum needs to better connect to the community and get with the program. There are easy savings in its budget, starting with the 47 staff who are paid more than $100,000.”“47 staff on the big bucks is totally unjustifiable. It’s a museum, not a hospital.”
“Auckland Council’s priority right now needs to be on infrastructure, core services, and slashing wasteful spending. Examples like this show why the Mayor’s proposed 5% rates hike is unjustified.”