December 17, 2015

Exclusive: Auckland Council hikes CEO's pay by 9.5%

StephenTownandBrown.jpgThe Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance can reveal that Auckland Councillors today approved a 9.5% pay hike for their Chief Executive, Stephen Town, at a public excluded meeting of the Councillors. The Ratepayers' Alliance understand that Mr Town’s salary will increase from $630,000 to $690,000.

We received the tip off early this afternoon, and subsequent confirmation from a person within the Council.

Ratepayers will be staggered that at a time when approval of the Council is at an all time low, it is rewarding its Chief Executive with a 9.5% salary hike. With inflation close to zero, and so many ratepayers struggling in the lead up to Christmas, the decision is grotesque.

If the Council was performing well, this could almost be justified. However with a the current economic climate, the Council’s sky high debt and seeming inability to rein in costs, there is no justification whatsoever for an increase of this magnitude."

It’s these sort of decisions which led to the formation of the Ratepayers’ Alliance. Len Brown has handed ratepayers a big lump of coal for Christmas and we need to stop this culture of extravagance and backslapping.

Tell us what you think by clicking here.

UPDATE: $690,000 confirmed

The Council has just issued a press release confirming that we were right. 

Media release 

Chief executive remuneration package decided

17 December 2015 

Today Auckland Council’s Governing Body determined a new remuneration package of $690,000 for Chief Executive Stephen Town.

The Mayor and Councillors received recommendations from the CEO Review Committee. Chair of the CEO Review Committee, Councillor Christine Fletcher says, “The Committee has reviewed Mr Town’s performance over the past two years. He is an experienced chief executive and has brought about some very positive changes at council.”

“Mr Town’s remuneration is aligned with the council’s focus on providing sound financial stewardship and doing more with less without compromising customer service, community and citizens. It is ensured our workforce effectively serves a diverse and changing Auckland.”

The increase will come into effect from 15 January 2016 and will be fixed for a period of two years.

Key facts on CEO remuneration can be found on Our Auckland here.


Nice of the Coucnil to link to "Our Auckland" - the Council-owed spin machine media service.

December 17, 2015

NewCore shaping up to be a rotten deal for ratepayers

The NZ Herald reports:

A $157 million Super City computer system has a potentially "catastrophic" risk, says Auditor General Lyn Provost.

The NewCore system, the cost of which has blown out from $71 million to $157 million, also carries an "almost certain" risk with a "major impact", she said.

Last night, the council's chief information officer Dean Kimpton said Ms Provost was commenting on information supplied in May and the computer system had improved significantly since then.

If that’s the case, Mr Kimpton needs to stump up with new figures to dispel any speculation. It is simply not good enough to try and brush this cost-blowout under the carpet by saying “Trust us, it’s now under control.” Ratepayers deserve better, and councillors should be demanding more.

In the past few days, Ms Provost told the council's leadership and councillors the NewCore programme is an area of significant cost and risk to the council.

NewCore is considered key to delivering the promised savings of the Super City. It is designed to consolidate the outdated operating systems of the former eight councils, which merged in 2010 to become the Auckland Council.

It is ironic, yet worrying, for ratepayers that the very programme established to deliver the much vaunted efficiencies of amalgamation has itself cost more than double what was expected!

Ms Provost recommended council management review the risks. She also recommended management update the business case justifying continued investment in NewCore.

"Benefits are now forecast to total $58 million by 2022, whereas the original business case had benefits reaching $75 million by 2022," Ms Provost said.

Again the Council have over-promised and are set to under-deliver, with ratepayers picking up the bill.

A report to councillors in May made no mention of a "catastrophic" risk with the data issue, only that the "issues are being prioritised and addressed".

Last week, council managers gave councillors an upbeat progress report on NewCore, saying it was progressing well and forecast to be completed on time and on budget.

It looks like the the bureaucracy is working overtime to keep Councillors from asking the hard questions.

When ratepayers’ elected representatives are kept in the dark about such a serious issue, it’s a sign that there’s a significant cultural problem among Council officials. This needs to change.

December 15, 2015

ATEED to spend $500k on catchphrase is reporting that Auckland Council's ATEED is to spend nearly half a million dollars on new look and catchphrase.

Auckland will have spent half a million dollars on a new image and catchphrase by the time its "Global Auckland" branding project is completed next year.

It will be money well spent, says the head of marketing for Brisbane city, which recently went through a similar exercise.

Auckland is aiming to develop a brand to help attract more international visitors, events, skilled migrants and investment.

Global Auckland kicked off in April, and Aucklanders won't learn what their new catchphrase is until mid-2016.

The job is budgeted to cost $480,000 in total, the city's economic development agency ATEED said. [...]

The question is, will ratepayers ever see $480,000 of benefit for a logo and catchphrase? We think not. When was the last time you visited Sydney or LA because of how its Council's busy bodies have crowned the city?

The first phase included more than 100 one-on-one interviews, focus groups, surveys and a digital campaign.

Out of that the themes and strategy were developed and tested on audiences.

The project team was now translating those into creative concepts, design and communication tools.

"ATEED is working to ensure that Auckland's new global identity is reflective of the people who live here by engaging far and wide," Bridgwater said.

The members of the Global Auckland advisory group are:

* Jane Hastings, CEO of NZME - chair

* David Downes

* Ngarimu Blair, Ngati Whatua o Orakei

* Heather Shotter, Committee for Auckland executive director

* Dr Sudhvir Singh, Generation Zero

* Michael Barnett, Auckland Chamber of Commerce CE

* James Hurman

* Tracey Fox, APN NZ creative director

* Karl Ferguson, Auckland Council communications and public affairs director

* Viv Beck, Heart of the City CE.

How the environmental group Generation Zero are experts in branding and international marketing we don't know and we wonder how much of the $480k these people are being paid.  Are they treating is as a civic duty; a volunteer role to better promote our great city? Or another ratepayer funded trough?


November 22, 2015

Ratepayer Groups Shut Out Of Phil Goff's Wasthaven Announement



22 NOVEMBER 2015

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is welcoming the Labour Party’s decision to put up a strong candidate in Phil Goff to replace its existing Mayor in Auckland, but note that no ratepayer group was invited to today’s announcement.

Jo Holmes, spokesperson for the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance says:
“We are deeply saddened that not a single ratepayer group in our network was invited to today’s announcement. If it's an indication of Mr Goff’s attitude toward ratepayers, he’s never going to rebuild the trust shattered by Len Brown."
“Few will doubt that Phil Goff has the experience for the job, but he needs to be very careful not to make campaign promises without clear plans of how they are going to be paid for.”

November 13, 2015

Councillors Should Abolish Regulatory Tax



13 NOVEMBER 2015

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is calling on Councillors to abolish the regulatory tax imposed by the Mana Whenua provisions in the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan, following the Auckland Council Development Committee’s vote to suspend 600 Sites of Value from the Plan.

Ratepayers’ Alliance spokesperson, Jo Holmes, says:

“Uncertainty persists for thousands of Auckland ratepayers affected by the Sites of Value that remain in the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan. Homeowners are facing significant costs and delays in order to consult with upwards of 15 different iwi to do home repairs or put up a fence.”

“Ratepayers are frustrated with the failure of Council to guarantee their property rights. In the 12 hours prior to the Councillors’ vote, more than 2,000 Aucklanders used our email tool to voice their concerns to councillors.”

“In the lead up to next year's council elections, we are calling on candidates to outline where they stand on these controversial provisions. Aucklanders deserve to know whether their representatives are going to legislate in favour of the metaphysical and imaginary over the rights of ratepayers prior to going to the ballot.”


November 09, 2015

Ratepayers Urge Council To Ditch Planning Rules Covering The Metaphysical




The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is hoping Thursday’s vote to reduce the number of ’sites of value’ to local iwi in the Unitary Plan is a sign of more to come. The sites, which are part of the Unitary Plan’s “Mana Whenua” provisions require property owners to check with sometimes more than 13 iwi groups to verify that their resource consent application does not require a ‘cultural impact assessment’. Cultural impact assessments, or “CIAs” can impose conditions or veto consents and cover historical in cultural matters, including the ‘metaphysical’ considerations of iwi.

Jo Holmes, a spokesperson for the Ratepayers’ Alliance, says:

“Seldom does it seem ratepayers get a win from this Mayor and Council, but Auckland property owners will welcome the removal of the 1,373 sites, and hope it is a sign of things to come.”

"We are calling Councillors to do the right thing, follow the advice of the Arcelogical Association, and scrap the provisions entirely."

In April the Ratepayers’ Alliance joined the Democracy Action, the Taxpayers’ Union,  and the Property Investers’ Federation in launching a report entitled “The Taniwha Tax” which outlines the impact of the Mana Whenua provisions. The report can be downloaded from the Ratepayers’ Alliances website.


November 05, 2015

Finances Should Be Centre-Piece Of Goff Mayoral Race




The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is welcoming the expected announcement from Labour's Phil Goff that he will be putting his hat in the ring to be the next Mayor of Auckland. Carmel Claridge, Spokesperson for the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance, says:

“While many of our members will welcome Labour replacing Len Brown for another candidate, we need to see a credible plan to end Auckland Council's high rates, high debt, trajectory."

“Right now Auckland Council owes creditors more on a per person basis than any other council in New Zealand. Even Christchurch ratepayers have a smaller per capita debt burden.”

“All Super City mayoral candidates will need credible plans which set out how they are going to pay for their promises. If Mr Goff is running on promises of transport spending, we just want to know how he plans to pay for it. After 9.9% rate hikes and with more borrowing out of the question, dipping deeper into ratepayers' pockets isn’t an option."


October 13, 2015

Is Mexico City Junket Reason For Joining Climate Change Group?



13 OCTOBER 2015

On Thursday Auckland Council’s Development Committee will be debating whetherto join a coalition of cities to share information on climate change. The group, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, is to gather  in Mexico City next year. 

Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance spokesperson Jo Holmes says:

"Despite Council Officers claiming that membership of the Group comes at no additional cost, it is clear that sending a group of Councillors and Council officials to Mexico City will cost tens of thousands of ratepayer dollars - money that will have already been earmarked for the development of Auckland. We need a Super City looking after Auckland, not one determined to get involved in international diplomacy."

“It’s not clear how ratepayers paying for an Auckland Mayor and his entourage to join up with a new group of cities, in addition to the existing 19 sister cities, is going to solve climate change. Any relevant information from the conference can be provided by sister cities Los Angeles and Guangzhou who are already members of the Group.”

The Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance call on Auckland’s Mayor and Councillors to focus on their core responsibilities of providing infrastructure to meet the city’s development needs and reject placing yet another cost onto already cash strapped ratepayers.

Help us stop this unnecessary waste of ratepayers' money. Sign the petition here.


October 08, 2015

Councillors Shouldn't Entertain TPPA Stunt Costing Ratepayers



8 OCTOBER 2015

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is telling Auckland Council to stick to its knitting after today’s Regional Strategy and Policy Committee was hijacked by Councillor Wayne Walker who put forward a Notice of Motion with a number of recommendations for the committee to consider regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). Jo Holmes, a Spokesperson for the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance, says:

“While many ratepayers may be against the TPPA deal, or want more information from the Government, very few will appreciate Auckland Council sticking its beak in and wasting more of ratepayers' money debating matters they have no jurisdiction over.”

“At the meeting members of the Council were calling this stunt a total waste of ratepayer money. Instead of wasting two hours, or around $40,000 on discussing the TPPA, Councillors could go do something useful instead - mow a few berms perhaps."

“Len Brown and his Council should leave international relations to Wellington. We don’t need to pay twice."


October 08, 2015

Our ratepayer plan - will you help us?

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance was launched back in April to provide a counter balance to a Mayor, Council, and officialdom who aren’t delivering the value for money we were promised with the Super City

Now that we are six months in, I thought it would be a good opportunity to update you about our progress and our plans for the next 12 months. How are we going to force the Council to put a halt to the high rates/high debt and big spending agenda?

Progress to date

Our movement is growing.  We are now in excess of 14,000 members across Auckland. In 6 months that is an incredible achievement – for comparison, the nationwide membership of the Labour Party is only around 15,000. A big thank you to our volunteers who delivered 25,000 “Have you rates gone up” leaflets – the response has been fantastic. Thank you too to those who donated generously and made the leaflet drop possible. 

Arming Aucklanders with the facts

Len Brown wants you to believe that he needs to rack up rates by 9.9% in order to afford quality infrastructure. In reality, despite his new transport levy, Auckland Council is now wasting so much money Auckland Transport has less money to spend on capital works this year!

We need to convince our fellow Aucklanders that we can have both affordable rates, and decent infrastructure. To do it, we will continue to expose examples of the Council wasting our money – it’s only through exposing the waste that we demonstrate that the Council could very well trim the fat, without it affecting core services for ratepayers.

Last week we launched the first of our Ratepayer Briefings examining the Council’s debt since amalgamation. The paper is available for download here. It shows that:

  • Auckland Council now has $10.09 billion in liabilities. To put this in perspective, it’s around $20,000 the Council owes per Auckland household.

  • Auckland Council’s per capita debt is so high that Aucklanders are in a worse position than Kaipara ratepayers in 2012 (when Government commissioners were appointed).

  • Despite record low interest rates, the Council's finance costs in 2014/15 amounted to $422 million. The Council's books are extremely vulnerable when the rates inevitably rise.

  • Len Brown’s fiscal management has increased total liabilities by 60% in the last 5 years and 15% in the last 12 months alone.

Leighton Smith picked up on our paper – you can listen to Leighton's comments here.

The 2017 elections – an opportunity for change

As a politically independent group we are not going to be running our own candidates at next years election. Instead we're going to be asking every Council and Mayoral candidate (regardless of their political affiliation) to sign a "Ratepayer Protection Pledge" - the pledge will ensure that Aucklanders know who will put an end to 9.9% rate hikes (and who won’t). The pledge will also serve as a very public commitment that the we can use to hold elected officials to account.

In addition, for the run up to the elections next year, we want to have the following in place: 

  • Leaflets ready to drop into every letterbox in the areas represented by the "Terrible Ten" Councillors who voted for the 9.9% rates. This will remind voters that these Councillors worked with Len Brown to replace his 2.5% rates rise cap with the 9.9% broken promise.

  • A mobile debt clock that shows the amount debt is rising every second under the Len Brown mayoralty (and the per household cost). By taking the mobile debt clock to candidate meetings we'll make sure affordability and low rates are at the forefront of the election campaign.

To make these campaigns possible we need more members and more donations. We also need you to spread the word and encourage co-workers, friends, and family members to join us. Only with numbers can we ensure our goal of a Super City with reasonable rates and sensible spending is achieved.

If you would like to become more involved in the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance you can contact us here, volunteer here, or please take a moment to donate here.

Let’s make it happen.

Jo Holmes
Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance

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