News

April 22, 2020

Auckland Town Hall Rich List: Council told to ‘put up or shut up’

“Auckland Council need to clarify, or get out of the way,” says the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance responding to objections Auckland Council CEO Stephen Town has made about the imminent publication of the inaugural Auckland Town Hall Rich List.

The Alliance is releasing the correspondence from and to the Council in relation to Alliance researchers making attempts to error check the information before its publication.

“The Town Hall Rich List collates already publicly available information concerning the pay of staff over $250,000,” says Jo Holmes, the Alliance’s spokesperson. “For some of the staff the mid-points of $20,000 bands have had to be used, so of course we would ask whether those staff are willing to provide the exact figures.”

“All of these individuals are paid more than many Government Ministers. They enjoy job security greater than just about every employee in the private sector right now. Their generous salaries are funded by the ratepayers we represent. The Town Hall Rich List does little more than collate publicly available information on those values, and it sticks that the Council is trying to stop ratepayers from seeing where their money is going.”

The letter from Stephen Town is available here. The response from the Ratepayers’ Alliance is available here.

April 16, 2020

What we told Councillors today

I'm just off the phone having been talking to the Auckland Mayor and Councillors at today's emergency Council meeting/conference call. You can read precisely what I told them at the bottom of this email.

After listening with horror to last week's Council meeting where all of the public participants (including a ratepayer-funded business group!) argued that the Council should spend more of our money, we weren't going to let the same thing happen again. Last week rates weren't even mentioned! Most of the discussion was on how to spend on things such as electric buses, cycleways and 'digital projects' to ‘transform’ the economy of Auckland during COVID-19.

We were given five minutes this morning to make the case for ratepayers.

I have copied below my speech notes and have linked to the presentation we sent to the Councillors.

As more and more councils across the country step up and commit to zero-percent rate increases for 2020, we can’t let Auckland Council and Phil Goff continue ‘business as usual’.

Please take a moment to sign the petition calling for a nationwide rates freeze here.  

Thank you for your support.

Presentation to Auckland Council — 16 April 2020

Click image for PDF of slides. Note figures are $ million.Slide

Speaking notes

Good morning Your Worship, and Councillors, thank you for hearing from us this morning.  My name is Jo Holmes, I am the Spokesperson for Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance; with me is Jordan Williams, the Executive Director of our sister group, the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Unlike nearly every group you hear from at these meetings, we will be the one that is not asking you to spend more money, in fact to the contrary – with so many households having to cut their cloth to the new economic reality, so must the Council.

We wish to speak to two points – the first concerning equitable pay cuts in the council to recognise the seriousness of the current financial situation; and the second about a rates freeze to avoid putting an even higher burden onto ratepayers, many of which are losing their jobs.

We congratulate and commend the Mayor’s leadership in taking a six month 20% pay cut, and those councillors who have agreed to do the same.  This is something our groups have been calling for, albeit for a 12 month period.

But the same has to apply to the leaders within the council bureaucracy. Auckland Council pays 2,831 staff more than $100,000. Two hundred and eighteen are paid more than $200,000, and 60 are paid more than $300,000. These staff don't just have massive pay packets – they also have the luxury of job security.

I looked this morning at comparable figures in the UK. There the local authority with the greatest number of employees whose remuneration was in excess of £100,000  – or about $200,000 NZ Dollar was Essex council with 35 employees. Essex Council serves 1.4million – about the same as Auckland.  Compare Essex’s 35 to Auckland’s 218.

We are soon to publish the Auckland Council Town Hall Rich List – listing these officials.  It would be great to see many of them volunteer to take the lead of the Mayor and share some of the economic burden that is falling on ratepayers right now.

Rates Freeze

Since the outbreak of the pandemic our Alliance and the Union have run a joint campaign calling on Councils around the country to place a freeze on rates.

We are extremely concerned that Auckland Council is still in a ‘business as usual’ mindset.

Unlike takes paid to central government, mostly on income, spending and profits, rates do not reflect a household's cashflow or ability to pay. That means councils are not well placed to 'stimulate’ the economy. To take more money out of Aucklanders' pockets in rates to ‘stimulate’ the Auckland economy would be a false economy.

It would be far better to get off the backs of ratepayers.

And that applies to targeted rates too. The accommodation provider targeted rate needs to go if we are to see much of that sector survive this year.

But more broadly we are here to today to call on you to freeze rates in order to ensure ratepayers – many of whom are now unemployed or facing cuts in hours – are not burdened with additional costs in the coming year.

We understand this will require Council to make cuts in spending in some areas – particularly since other sources of income will be under threat. Unfortunately, any other pathway will simply saddle ratepayers with higher costs when they can least afford it.

We have a number of suggestions of what is no longer needed, but the most obvious way to cut costs is payroll.

Without naming names, the claims made year after year that we need even higher rates to cover infrastructure investment have been dishonest when you consider that while rates income has increased 30.4% between 2012 and 2019, staff costs have increased 39.1% over the same period.

With the Government willing to fund shovel ready capital projects, the capital expenditure is a bit of a red herring in terms of rates. The real question is when are you going to cut wasteful or low priority spending so that ratepayers know that you stand with them, not against them?

Christchurch City Council is the only council in New Zealand that has higher liabilities per ratepayer than Auckland Council.  Mayor Lianne Dalziel has found the room to commit to a rates freeze.  If she can do it, so can you.

We are happy to take questions.

ENDS

December 16, 2019

Councillors put on notice over Pledge to ratepayers

The Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance has written to two Auckland Councillors warning them of their obligations to ratepayers under the Ratepayer Protection Pledge.

Crs Sharon Stewart and Tracy Mulholland both promised to oppose measures that would increase rates by more than 2.5 percent per annum. Despite this, last week they voted to advance Phil Goff's Annual Budget proposal to consultation. The proposal includes a 3.5 percent rate hike.

Here is the letter we sent the two Councillors:

We note that Cr Christine Fletcher, who also agreed to uphold the Pledge, voted against the proposed Budget. We applaud her choice to stand clearly on the side of ratepayers.

November 18, 2019

Revealed: Quay St's cost blowout and torn up cycleway

Quay St

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:

Cycleway

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

Ratepayers' Alliance releases 2019 Voting Guide

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:

Candidates

  • ✔️ 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

Ratepayer Protection Pledge Update

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:

Mayoral candidates

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
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.

--> Click here to send email <--

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

Ratepayers’ Report 2019: Auckland Council ranked highest in the country for average rates

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.

Staffing figures:

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 remuneration:

CEO Stephen Town: $691,154

CCO CEOs:
Nick Hill, Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development: $435,000
Chris Brooks, Regional Facilities Auckland: $483,321
Roger MacDonald, Panuku Development Auckland: $588,976

Councillor remuneration:

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

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.