May 11, 2015
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.
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…
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
Late 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
A copy of the presentation is embedded below.
May 07, 2015
When running for Mayor in 2013, Len Brown promised not to increase average rates more than 2.5%.
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.
April 21, 2015
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
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.
April 15, 2015
Today the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance was proud to stand beside a number of others as we launched a report produced by our sister organisation, the Taxpayers' Union. We joined representatives from the Auckland Property Investors' Association and Democracy Action who gathered to launch the paper entitled The Taniwha Tax: Briefing paper on Auckland Council’s new Mana Whenua rules.
Aucklanders deserve to know how these new rules affect them and, potentially, the values of their properties.
Most affected property are completely unaware of the provisions and what they entail until they learn about a site on or near their land, or are told about the need to obtain a Cultural Impact Assessment when applying for resource consent. To make things worse, the Council has not even verified that the 3,600 sites deemed 'of value' still exist. The Council have refused to check that the sites exist, but expect ratepayers to go looking for any of the number of Mana Whenua groups to see if they have a site of cultural significance in their backyard.
The Briefing Paper quotes extensive criticisms of the provisions made on behalf of some of New Zealand’s largest corporates, including Vodafone, Spark, Chorus, Transpower, Vector and Watercare.
Navigating through RMA red tape is already hard enough. Yet these provisions pose a further hurdle for property owners seeking development consent. The rules mean that resource consents may require negotiations with up to 19 Mana Whenua groups; resIf you thought that navigating RMA red tape was hard, these provisions could require you to negotiate with up to nineteen Mana Whenua groups in order to gain development consent, the rules mean that resource consents may be subject to expensive modifications, even if the reasons are entirely spiritual in nature.
The Council has previously tried to dampen public concerns, claiming that not many Cultural Impact Assessments have been required so far. They ignore the cost and delay of applicants having to go to iwi groups to ask whether a CIA is required.
Most of the messages contained in the Paper are not those of the Taxpayers’ Union. It deliberately repeated what would otherwise go undiscovered in the files of lawyers, planners and Council insiders. This work is to shine some democratic light onto what has happened.
The report is available to download here.
April 13, 2015
Rate hikes, proposed new taxes and a culture of wasteful spending has led a group of concerned citizens to form the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance which begins operations from today.
Our purpose is to hold Auckland Council to account. With 130 spin-doctors the Council is very good at side-lining the concerns of neighbourhood ratepayer groups. By combining forces, this new group will shine the light on those wasting ratepayers’ money.
If you're an Aucklander who like us is sick and tired of the Council wasting ratepayer money join us by clicking here.
Traditionally it’s been the business and property groups that have stuck up for fiscal responsibility within Auckland’s local government. Unfortunately most Auckland business groups are now heavily reliant on ratepayer money and find it difficult to bite the Council hand that feeds them.
We're an initiative of the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union and it's thousand or so Auckland-based members. Our objectives are similar to the Taxpayers' Union, albeit we are an Auckland-based group dedicated to holding Len Brown, his Council, and officials to account.
Click read more to learn more about us, who we are and what we stand for.