News

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.

July 20, 2015

Do as they say, not as they do

auckland-civic-car-park-120.jpgToday we can reveal that as the Council is hiking parking charges by 40 - 50 per cent from next month, Councillors and senior Council staffers are enjoying free carparks courtesy of ratepayers.

From next month it will cost $24 to park all day at the council's three central city buildings at Downtown, the Civic and Victoria Street. Yet documents we have released today show that elected officials and 30 other staff members are entitled to individual car parks worth at least $4,920.

Aucklanders have faced increased rates, the transport levy and now the prospect of a further 50 per cent increase in the cost of parking. When will the Council get off Aucklanders' backs? Even worse - while they are telling everyone else to take the bus or train, Councillors are feathering their own nests with their private parking spaces.

Early-bird parking was abolished last year by Auckland Transport as they claimed it was subsidising commuter traffic into the city centre. Now they have announced that wasn't enough - so want to increase prices by 40 - 50 per cent!

While Aucklanders have to pay top dollar to get parking in Auckland, councillors and thirty council big-wigs have free parking courtesy of ratepayers. This is a clear case of do as I say, not as I do.

July 01, 2015

Guest Post: Friends of Fowlds Park

A member has sent this through to highlight what he thinks is the Council spending money unnecessarily.

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Friends of Fowlds Park are a community of people who oppose Auckland Council’s plans to build a 10,000 square metre artificial pitch in Fowlds Park, Mt Albert, as part of Council's plans to build 37 artificial pitches in public parks across Auckland at a cost of more than $2 million per pitch (a total of $74 million). 

The reasons we’re opposing the application are listed on our website.  Briefly, if Council chose fibre reinforced grassas it has chosen for for Nixon Park, Kingsland, instead of an artificial surface, it would deliver as many hours of sport but would have none of the adverse effects on the environment particular to artificial pitches.  The fibre reinforced grass option would cost only around one third as much to install, a total of only $24 million for 37 fields, a $50 million saving.

We ask for your support by making a submission to Auckland Council’s application by 13th July (click here for details).

We believe it is important that as many individuals and organisations as possible, wherever they are located, make submissions on this important issue which affects the whole of Auckland and all Aucklanders.

Kind regards

Will McKenzie (on behalf of Friends of Fowlds Park)
friendsoffowldspark@gmail.com

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June 25, 2015

"Terrible Ten" pass Brown budget

Well it's now official. Len Brown's 'pledge' to cap rates at 2.5% was a joke all along

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is saddened that Aucklanders will be facing an average 9.9% rates increase after passing the Mayor's proposed budget nine votes to ten.

This locks in rate increases ninety-nine times the current rate of inflation. With some suburbs facing rate increases of nearly 20% in a single year. What confidence can Aucklanders have in Len Brown when he promises a 2.5% rates cap and delivers a 9.9% rates hike?

The Ratepayers’ Alliance will be making it its mission to ensure that not a single councillor that voted for today's rates hike will be re-elected next year.

Join the campaign to hold the Council to account by clicking here.


The "Terrible Ten":

  • Len Brown
  • Arthur Anae
  • Bill Cashmore
  • Linda Cooper
  • Chris Darby
  • Alf Filipaina
  • Mike Lee
  • Calum Penrose
  • Wayne Walker
  • Penny Webster

Penny Hulse was not at this vote, but has previously indicated support for Len Brown's financial management of the City.

June 22, 2015

Those allowing the 9.9% rates increase

Today the New Zealand Herald reported that the five councillors listed below would be abstaining from voting on Len Brown's budget, which includes the proposed 9.9% rates increase.

These councillors know that Aucklanders are already facing high rates bills and do not want to have them go even higher.

They have the opportunity to vote against the Mayor's proposal and ensure that a new, more affordable, plan is agreed to.

We encourage our supporters to email these representatives and urge them to vote against the Len Brown's high spend, low value budget.

Cathy Casey
Albert-Eden-Roskill

cathy.casey@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz
 
Ross Clow
Whau

ross.clow@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz
 

Mike Lee
Waitemata and Gulf

mike.lee@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz 

 

Wayne Walker
Albany

wayne.walker@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz 

 

John Watson
Albany

john.watson@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz

 

May 11, 2015

What a difference a day makes!

Last night we went public on Auckland Council's plans to spend up to $10 million on a new Council chamber so that the Mayor and Councillors don't have to walk the 400 metres to the existing chamber in the Auckland Town Hall. The confidential briefing, provided to the Ratepayers’ Alliance and given to One News, was requested by councillors who asked officials for "options to improve councillor and public experience" and move the chamber into the Council’s new office tower at 135 Albert Street.

As a result of our shinning the light on what the Council was doing behind closed doors, the Council has backed down with One News today unable to find a single Councillor willing to support the proposal they had asked for!

The One News coverage of our release of the secret briefing made to Councillors is here. We also uploaded the full presentation to here.

One News screenshot (Sunday night)

Today Mayor Len Brown fronted (unlike yesterday) but surprisingly blamed his CEO - even though it was pointed out to him that the presentation makes clear that this was an initiative the Councillors had requested…

One News screenshot (Monday night)

For an organisation less than a month old, we are proud that our efforts have already forced a Council back down that will save ratepayers millions. Our work isn’t costless though – if you can chip in, donate now to help us keep the Super City honest.

May 10, 2015

Councillors consider spending $10m on new chamber

Len BrownLate on Friday we were leaked a secret presentation made to Auckland Councillors in December which reveals that the Councillors are considering spending millions of ratepayer money to build a new council chamber so councillors and officials do not have to walk the 400 metres to the former Auckland Town Hall.

We've spoken to a property developer who has provided us with a 'back of the napkin' estimate that the cost to ratepayers could be between $4.5 and $10 million dollars, depending on the option chosen.

The confidential briefing was requested by councillors who asked officials for "options to improve councillor and public experience" and move the chamber into the Council’s new office tower at 135 Albert Street.

Len Brown promised to cap rates at 2.5%, last week delivered 9.9%, and now we find out councillors want to waste millions on meeting rooms to save them from a 400 metre walk.

Secret Council presentation

This Council act like they have more money than sense. The Auckland town hall is a beautiful building and there is nothing wrong with the existing space. Spending should be on public works, not vanity projects.

135 Albert Street

We’re calling on the Council to live within its means and get back to basics. Ratepayers of Auckland are sick of paying for the Council's luxuries while it tells the public that there is no money left for core infrastructure.

Key facts:

  • Council currently use the ‘reception lounge' on level 2 of the Auckland town hall for full council meetings
  • Councillors asked officials to provide options for a new council chamber in its office tower at 135 Albert Street
  • 135 Albert Street was purchased by the Council for $104 million in 2012 
  • The existing Town Hall would remain in Council ownership and retained for ceremonial space
  • The Council has refused to provide its estimate of the costs. The Ratepayers Alliance has been advised by a property developer that the costs could be between $4.5 and $10 million depending on the design options chosen

Update: One News on council chambers

One News tonight covered the Council's plans to build a new chamber just half a kilometre from where the old one is.

One News screenshot

 

Tell Len Brown to do what he promised and not let rates get out of control - Sign the petition here

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A copy of the presentation is embedded below.

May 07, 2015

Len Brown's breaks his rates pledge

When running for Mayor in 2013, Len Brown promised not to increase average rates more than 2.5%.Lenbrown1.jpg

In November 2014 he stretched his credibility and voted for a 3.5% average rates.

Today he well and truly shattered his promise to Aucklanders.

We now face an average household rates increase of 9.9%.

Len Brown, along with deputy mayor Penny Hulse, Penny Webster, Arthur Anae, Cathy Casey, Bill Cashmore, Linda Cooper, Chris Darby, Alf Filipaina, Chris Fletcher, Mike Lee, Calum Penrose, Wayne Walker and Maori Statutory Board members David Taipari and Glen Wilcox voted for this increase.

The details of the tax plan show that it is the poorest and most vulnerable that will be hit the hardest. These are the very people Len Brown relied upon to elect him to office.

Reports detail that Otara and Papatoetoe will see rates increases of 16.9%, with similar increases for Beach Haven and Glenfield.

While some people will be able to reluctantly absorb the rates increases, others will find it a struggle to make ends meet.

Young families and elderly people who rely on their pensions, may find themselves having to cut back on the essentials in order to meet this increase.

We have launched a petition to remind Len Brown how his broken promises will cost Aucklanders. We encourage you to sign and share.

 

Tell Len Brown to do what he promised and not let rates get out of control - Sign the petition here

April 21, 2015

$8.5 million of ratepayers' money for Auckland business groups

Auckland Council has spent $8.5 million of ratepayers money on grants to business groups since November 2010 - and that doesn't include the $20 million given to the failed Heart of the City group.

Business groups should be funded by business with an idea to keep the Council on its toes. Instead the Super City has turned them into Council cheerleaders thanks to this generous slush fund. We uncovered that a grant was even made for augmented reality wayfinding technology - whatever that is!

Ratepayers deserve answers from the Council as to why this is the best use of $8.5 million, rather than frontline services and core infrastructure. It's little wonder that rates have increased when the Council takes over a function that has always been the role of the local Chamber of Commerce.

We're concerned that once ratepayers' money has left the Council, there is very little accountability for how it is spent as the Heart of the City debacle shows. These business groups receive ratepayers' money, but are still immune from oversight through official information laws.

Business groups once played an opposition role to the excess of local government. With the Council handing out ratepayers’ money to nearly fifty business groups, it’s easy to see how once strong voices of opposition have been placated.

April 16, 2015

Guest post: Larry Mitchell on what's wrong with Auckland Council

So what is wrong with Auckland Council?

Well quite a lot really - if daily headlines are any guide. Signs of a dysfunctional Council organisation have now reached a point where the direct intervention of the Minister of Local Government is being urged.

A scheduled official review of the Council, under the legislation that created the Council is required this year to address Council performance issues of concern and to provide in future a programme of performance measurement and improvement.

Among the issues that assuredly deserve this level of scrutiny, one in particular has significance well beyond its prosaic sounding nature. After all, the defect, the subject of this piece, that of a flawed budget and accounting process is hardly the subject of animated conversations over a latte in the fashionable suburbs of Auckland.

Nevertheless, the way this Council currently runs its accounting cutter has a huge effect and contributes greatly to current Council deficiencies.

Let’s put it like this: If you, (say) ordered a shed to be constructed to your specifications at an agreed cost on your property only to find that a shed of a differing lower quality had been erected on the neighbours plot, I venture to suggest you would at the very least withhold your payment.

In the Auckland Council World though

  • rates and charges are set using compulsive powers,
  • delivery of the services supplied, whether they meet the standard expected (or are even applied to the particular area of benefit the charges relate to) is by no means assured and
  • payments are seldom rebated, even when there are obvious defects.

Accountability to ratepayers for the services supplied by Councils has deteriorated over the past decade or more. The rot set in when Councils, in the mid-nineties progressively moved their accounting systems to what became to be known as “The Council-Corporate Treasury model”.

In simple terms, the well-established and accountable, detailed audit trail of revenues and expenditures, all tracked down to the ward level area of benefit were replaced by an organisation- wide aggregation of information. The detail was lost.

As a result, assessments, often called for by groups of ratepayers characterised as “What did we pay for … compared with what did we get?” are nigh on impossible.

A Councillor recently advised that his enquiries of this kind on behalf of Waiheke ratepayers has been met with obfuscation and spin.

Similarly, Northern Rodney ratepayer enquiries, intended to establish the value received in their area for their Council services payments failed to satisfy the group. Their own assessment was that up to half of their area payments had not been spent in their area, particularly on their crumbling rural roads.

Debates of this nature rarely satisfy anyone, such is the dearth of detail and specifics including ratepayer’s value received for a defined area of benefit.

At the time Council systems were changed, all those years ago, justification for the change, in part was the matter of complexity. Council management asserted their inability and the high administrative costs to maintain the necessary level of detail needed to answer such enquiries.

Now, with mature, flexible, modern IT systems in place providing powerful relational data base information and systems of financial management, this excuse no longer holds up.

To maintain this fiction today and when the information could readily be supplied to satisfy essential levels of accountability, this stance amounts to a version of Auckland ratepayers getting the mushroom treatment so beloved of bureaucracies.

The upcoming Council performance review should put fixing this state of affairs high up on their “To Do” list.

Larry Mitchell is a Local Government Finance & Policy Analyst who lives in Auckland Council’s Northern Rodney rural area township of Puhoi. If you would like to contribute a guest post please contact us.