September 25, 2015

Council's Financials Even Worse Than Expected




Today’s release of Auckland Council’s annual report show that the City is in an even worse financial shape than its critics predicted. The report, adopted by the Council yesterday and released today, show that the Council’s total liabilities have grown by more than a billion dollars, or 15 percent in 12 months.

Jo Holmes, Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance spokesperson says:

“The fact that the Council is releasing the report on a Friday, the day spin doctors release bad news, speaks volumes about how bad these numbers are.”

“Today’s debt is tomorrow’s higher rates. While the Council will point to their asset base as try to justify the red ink, our analysis shows that even on a per household basis the Council is in a much sorrier state than Kaipara District Council which effectively went bust in 2012.”

“Auckland Council’s budget deficit dwarfs recent deficits in central government. Len Brown’s legacy looks set to be financial disaster." 



September 18, 2015

Council Staff Blow Out Astonishing




“No wonder rates are going up,” says Jo Holmes, spokesperson for the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance in reaction to today’s news that Auckland Council has had a $63 million blowout in staff costs.

“The Council appears to be trying to soften the public for next week’s release of the annual accounts which are understood to show ballooning operating expenses and debt.

“The Council should be benchmarking itself to wages in the private sector. Instead, not only is the Council bringing on more people, the wages for existing staff are rising much faster than in the private sector.

“Cushy job if you can get it. But it's Auckland ratepayers who are picking up Len Brown’s tab.”



September 14, 2015

How many Council staff? Who knows?

Last week published this article about the Council’s increase in staff numbers. It appears to paint a different picture regarding staff numbers to official information we received from the Council.

Auckland Council has around 200 more staff than it did last year, thanks to the city's rapid growth.

The council is about to release its annual report for the 12 months to June 2015, showing both its revenue and expenditure rose during the year.

This was because of Auckland's increasing population, council officers said.

The city grew by 45,000 people last year, up from an increase of 35,000 in 2014.

"Population growth has a direct impact on many of our our activities," Matthew Walker, general manager financial plan, policy and budget, said.

The council and its agencies, including Watercare and Auckland Transport, hired 208 more full-time equivalents (FTEs) in the 2015 year.

This amounted to an extra $63 million in staff costs, Kevin Ramsay, general manager finance, said.

Firstly, that statement must be incorrect. If the hiring of 208 additional staff members caused an increase in staffing costs of $63 million per annum, that means each of those new staff would be taking home an average salary of over $300,000! 

For example numbers of building consents went up 6 per cent in the year, meaning the council had to employ the equivalent of 42 more people in the building and resource consents areas to process them.

Auckland Transport, which oversaw big projects such as the rollout of the electric trains and the first full year of the integrated HOP passenger card, employed 116 more FTEs.

"That was a lot of people being brought on board just to increase that ability to deliver those services," Ramsay said.

Auckland Transport employed 116 more FTEs in part due to the introduction of HOP cards – cards which are supposed to automate transactions between customers and staff. With the introduction of a card to help streamline and automate services, ratepayers would expect staffing numbers to be reduced. Yet Auckland Transport seem to think the introduction of the simpler service is somehow justification for employing more people at the ratepayer’s expense!

Likewise water services provider Watercare employed 58 more FTES,  "just to literally serve, to operate, to maintain and deliver on that infrastructure".

There were also one-off events which required more staffing, such as the handling of a record number of submissions on the council's new 10-year budget, the Unitary Plan hearings currently being held, and the FIFA Under 20 and Cricket World Cups.

Nevertheless the council made an operating surplus of $80 million for the year, and its $2.2 billion spend on staff and suppliers was within budget, he said.

Staff numbers were still around 230 fewer than when the Auckland Super City was created five years ago.

Auckland Council can’t seem to get their story straight. Last month we received a response to an information request about staff numbers, which showed that the total FTE of the legacy councils was 9,430, while Auckland Council as at 30 June 2014 was 9,394 FTE.

The Council cannot seem to get their story right. On the one hand they are telling us that they employed 208 more FTE in the past year, which would take their total FTE up to 9,602. Yet on the other they are claiming that they employ slightly less FTE than the sum of the legacy councils (9,430).

Seems that the Council’s spinning, rather than giving ratepayers an accurate picture of staff numbers. That’s not good enough.

September 14, 2015

Ratepayers Don't Need A Len Brown 'Ministry Of Information'




The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is shocked that Auckland Council is set to announce a new mobile app and online news service the cost of which is unknown. Jo Holmes, a spokesperson for the Ratepayers’ Alliance, says:
“At 130 staff, Auckland Council has more spin doctors than any Auckland newsroom has journalists. Instead of serving ratepayers, the Council looks set to create a ‘Pravda’ style propaganda outlet.”
“Auckland Council gets bad press because it racks up rates, wastes our money, and has reduced its infrastructure spend, despite the new transport levy. Instead of fixing itself the Council wants to launch a news service to engineer propaganda. Ratepayers will be saying 'no no no’ to the creation of a Soviet style 'Ministry of Information'.”




September 14, 2015

Council Claims Of Lower Staff Numbers Smoke And Mirrors




The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance has released an Auckland Council document which appears to contradict recent public statements by Council officials relating to the number of FTE staff at Auckland Council.

On Thursday, Kevin Ramsay, the Council’s General Manager Finance announced that despite the Council having hired 208 more full-time equivalent staff last year, total staff numbers were still around 230 fewer than the sum of the legacy councils, which were amalgamated five years ago.

The Council document released by the Ratepayers' Alliance dated 27 August 2015 shows that the total number of FTEs of the legacy councils was 9,430. As at 30 June 2014 (the balance date of Auckland Council's last Annual Report), the Council stated that FTE staff numbers were 9,394. The Council's acknowledgement that FTE numbers have increased by 208 in the last 12 months appears to contradict Mr Ramsay's claim that Council staff numbers are lower now than they were prior to amalgamation.

Jo Holmes, Auckland Ratepayers Alliance spokesperson, says:

“Auckland Council appears to have been caught out spinning its own staff numbers. It tells one thing to ratepayers, while these official documents say quite another."

"Data obtained by the Ratepayers’ Alliance shows that a year ago the Council had only 36 fewer staff than the legacy councils. Now staff numbers have gone up by 208 but the Council would have you believe that it still has fewer staff than in 2010. If you believe that then I’ve got a bridge to sell you.”

“No matter how much Len Brown’s staff spin it, we have clearly reached the point where the Auckland's Super City is larger than the sum of its parts.”

The Council's August document is available on the Ratepayers' Alliance website.



September 01, 2015

Ratepayers' Alliance Welcome Auckland Transport U-Turn




After raising more than 2,000 signatures in support, the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is welcoming Auckland Transport’s decision to waive the 27 tickets it issued to residents of Orakei's narrow Apihai and Tautari streets. The tickets were issued for parking on footpaths in a recent 2am blitz, despite publication of photos showing a Council vehicle breaching the same rules.
Jo Holmes, Spokesperson for the Ratepayers’ Alliance, says, “Auckland Transport is finally applying some common sense and we welcome the decision."
“Our members were particularly disturbed by the Council’s apparent duplicity in refusing to ticket Council employees for breaking the same rules. Though it’s a small victory, it’s good to see people power can force Auckland Transport’s hand."


September 01, 2015

Auckland Council's Transport Levy Porky Revealed




The revelation that Auckland Transport has less money for capital works this year, as admitted by its Chief Executive David Warburton today, shows that too much ratepayer money is being wasted by an inefficient Council operation. Jo Holmes, spokesperson for the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance says:

“On the same day tens of thousands of commuters are in gridlock thanks to Auckland Transport’s failure to protect Tamaki Drive from seasonal flooding, we learn that the transport levy is a fraud. Len Brown said the transport levy was a necessary pain to get Auckland moving. In reality the skyrocketing rates are being soaked up by a bloated Council with high operating and staffing costs."

"It is simply shameful that transport capital expenditure has actually reduced. It’s time the Council got back to basics, slashed its bloated op-ex budgets and spent our money on capital projects which get Auckland moving."


August 26, 2015

Len Brown responds to ARA criticism of 2am ticketing blitz


Len Brown has conceded that the Ratepayers’ Alliance characterisation of the 2am ticket blitz in Orakei as “overzealous revenue gathering” was a “fair comment in the sense that it is unusual timing” during an interview with 95bFM this morning.

The 2am ticketing blitz saw residents along Apihai and Tautari streets in Orakei saw 27 residents fined $40 each for parking partly on the footpath.

Both streets are very narrow and residents suggest that parking partly on the footpath is a neighbourhood courtesy to ensure vehicle traffic, including emergency services, can navigate down the streets during the evening.

While the Mayor would not be drawn on whether Auckland Transport officials were wrong to be ticketing residents, he did say “It’s certainly an unusual time for our transport guys to be out and carrying their work in that type of diligent manner”.

Len Brown says he has requested a report of the incident and will look into it further. We’re not holding our breath for any reprieve for these residents, despite the Council itself being caught out a day later committing the exact same infringement on the exact same road.

How’s that for hypocrisy?

You can listen to this portion of Len Brown’s interview with 95bFM below.



August 25, 2015

Do as Council says, not as they do (again)

Early morning ticket blitz

You may have seen the media coverage yesterday about the 27 people who woke up last week to tickets from Auckland Transport for parking on the kerb after a 2am blitz along Apahai and Tautari streets in Orakei.

By coincidence, Carmel, our volunteers coordinator knows the streets well. Her son flats on Tautari Street (he didn’t receive a ticket, though several of his flatmates did). Both streets are very narrow and if residents park on the street, it would be impossible to get any vehicles or emergency services past the parked vehicles. Parking on the curb has happened for years – it’s common sense – not that it matters to the Council.

Auckland Transport has tried to defend its actions. Apparently vehicles obstructing pedestrians using the footpaths are a big problem at 2 in the morning.

Yesterday I joined RadioLIVE’s Ali Mau and Willie Jackson to discuss the Council’s approach (click here for audio on demand).

Do as Council says - not as they do

Council employee caught outSo it came as no surprise today to learn that even the Council’s employees are parking on the kerb in the same area – only they don’t get a ticket. This afternoon the Herald published a photograph taken by an eagle-eyed resident of one of the Council’s very own cars parked half-on the footpath during the middle day.

Len_Brown.jpgThis isn’t the first time photographic evidence of hypocrisy has been ignored. Auckland Transport refused to ticket Len Brown when he was snapped parking over a cycle lane last month. It’s time we had a Council culture that served ratepayers, not lorded over them with this sort of arrogance.

We’re backing those who got the tickets – and have launched a petition calling on the Council to either abandon it’s hard-nosed approach and cancel the 27 tickets. Please take a moment to sign the petition by clicking here.

August 25, 2015

Surprise Surprise: Auckland Council Break Own Rules (Again)




The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is repeating calls to let-off the 27 residents of Orakei's Apihai and Tautari streets which were ticketed in a 2am blitz last week for parking on footpaths. The renewed call comes after today’s release of a photoshowing an Auckland Council vehicle breaching the same rule in the one of the same streets. Carmel Claridge, a spokesperson for the Ratepayers’ Alliance, says:

“This is a case of the Council’s 'do as I say, not as I do' attitude. Despite the Council's own staff demonstrating that parking on the kerb in these very narrow streets is common sense, the Council still won’t budge and let-off the people it ticketed. It is arrogant in the extreme.”

“We’ve spoken to one of Auckland Transport’s spin doctors and asked whether the Council employee will also be ticketed. The answer is no. Incredibly we were told that one of the reasons is that photos are able to be doctored but even if the employee admits to the offence, Auckland Transport still won’t ticket the Council employee.”

“This isn’t the first time photographic evidence of hypocrisy has been ignored. The Council refused to ticket Len Brown when he was snapped parking over a cycle lane last month. It’s time we had a Council culture that served ratepayers, not lorded over them with this sort of arrogance."