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Like Russian nesting dolls Auckland Council secretaries need secretaries

That’s right – the Auckland Council’s CEO has a secretary that is advertising for a secretary.

We have all heard about stories of politicians looking to empire build courtesy of the taxpayers’ pocket, but this really takes the cake.

No wonder Auckland Council now has more bureaucrats on living off ratepayers than all of the councils it replaced combined.

So what will this new position entail?

“Your day will involve providing administrative support as and where required, this includes anything from managing correspondence, records management to diary management. This role is vital to ensuring that items are actioned, recorded and accurate.”

If that’s the role of the secretary’s secretary, what’s left for the secretary to do?

At a time when the Council needs to find savings of $860 per ratepayer, empire building in Council offices should not be tolerated.

With nearly 6,000 bureaucrats on the pay-roll, 811 of which are earning over $100,000 a year, Len Brown and his CEO ought to be out trimming the fat rather than increasing the burden on ratepayers even further. 

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'Do as I say, not as I do' attitude from Auckland Transport

News that Auckland Transport forked out $122,000 of ratepayers’ money for a six month trial of an employee shuttle service has gone down in Auckland like a lead balloon.

Auckland Council has been left scrambling in an attempt to save face.

We are concerned by the prevalence of the cavalier attitude towards ratepayers’ money that is seemingly embedded in Auckland Council and some of its associated organisations.

A concerned supporter of the Taxpayers’ Union has written in to us with a list of questions that need to be raised about this latest Auckland Transport gaffe. We’ve condensed them down to the following:

  1. How many staff need to travel from the Henderson Auckland Transport office into the city office for meetings?
  2. How often are these commutes made?
  3. Have alternative options, such as using remote collaboration tools or programmes such as Skype been investigated?
  4. What efforts have been made to ensure greater efficiencies through the scheduling of all or most of these meetings on a single day?
  5. Have any feasibility studies been undertaken to ascertain whether or not it would be more efficient to relocate affected staff members from theHenderson office to the city office?

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Waste watch: Auckland Council funds conference on polyamory

Yesterday afternoon we received a tipoff that Auckland Council recently funded a one day conference to explore the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved, also known as polyamory. 

Last month the gaynz.com website reported that among the first recipients of Auckland Council’s first ever 'Rainbow Door Fund’ was 'Poly Panel, Discussions around Queer Polyamory’, a one day event exploring a framework of ethical, healthy polyamory relationships.

We think that Auckland ratepayers will be horrified that it appears their rates are being used to promote alternative lifestyles.

Why should Auckland Council be concerning itself with matters in the bedroom?

This is just as concerning as it would be were Auckland Council funding conservative lobby group conferences such as for Family First.

Earlier this year the Rainbow Door Fund was established to provide grants for glbti people. We think it is questionable for Auckland Council to fund community groups based on the sexual preferences of their members. Conferences such as these should be funded by the interest groups themselves, not from money meant for roads and core services.

Given the spiralling levels of Auckland Council debt, the Council should be focused on value for money, not throwing funding at favoured groups.

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Auckland Council charges for pool inspections

A reader has sent this in to me. They note:

Just got a letter today that informs me that the  will now inspect my pool fencing every three years to make sure it is still there and charge me for the privilege. Revenue generating at its best.

Original inspection received sign-off. It cost a fortune to put in a steel fence. Current charge for initial inspection is $75 – I am OK with that and foolishly thought that was the end of it.

Now it will be inspected every three years at a higher cost of $125 per inspection. For now.

My points are:

  • Why follow up inspections? It is a metal fence set in concrete – we are hardly likely to lift it out of the ground
  • Why more expensive since it is just (supposedly) reaffirming it is still there so technically they could look from the top of our drive and view it rather than inspect it
  • Why can’t we just send in a photo showing it is still there – saves them a trip and us a lot of money

This is revenue generating pure and simple. It is a loose interpretation of Fencing of Swimming Pools Act 1987 section 10 (Every territorial authority shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that this Act is complied with within its district.)Exploitation of vague legislation seen as a revenue opportunity.

Since Len(it’s all about me) came in our rates have increased and services decreased as well as additional charges sneaking into the mix. This is snowballing and there seems to be no vehicle to challenge other than talk to a child at the call centre who sounded very sweet but “that picnic may be short of a sandwich” if you know what I mean. She struggled to know what to say and failed to find me anyone to talk to. Any suggestions for recourse?

The $75 initial charge does seem okay, but checking every three years the fence set in concrete is still there seems indeed just revenue generating – especially as they will cost more than the original check.

NB: This post also appears on my personal blog kiwiblog.co.nzPlease feel free to comment on the post there.

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Mayor Brown must pay the money back

As widely covered by media over the weekend, the EY report into suspected misuse of Auckland Council resources by Len Brown is deeply concerning. In addition to the undeclared freebies (including undeclared gifts from Skycity - at the same time as publicly championing the convention centre deal) the report fails to deal with the concerns raised by the Taxpayers' Union in relation to the Mayor's trip to China in January 2013. We still don't know for example:

  1. What was Mayor Brown's spending on the trip?
  2. Why was the trip not announced in the same way as other official trips by Mr Brown?
  3. Why did officials mislead us about the existence of the trip?
  4. Why were officials instructed to refer all enquires about the trip to Mr Brown's Chief of Staff?
  5. Were officials instructed not to disclose the existence of the trip?
  6. What was/is the Council or Mayor trying to hide?

Apology hollow without offer to refund Auckland ratepayers

Today we called on Mr Brown to pay back the money for both his personal expenses and undeclared gift listed in the EY report.  Without the offer to pay the money back, we think the apology made by Mr Brown today to ratepayers is meaningless.

Click continue reading for our media release.

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Competition winner announced

Yesterday the Taxpayers’ Union  announced the winner of its competition for the Aucklander with the highest percentage increase in rates and user-charges.

The winner is Mrs Glenys Smith of Howick, whose rates have more than doubled since 2003.

Mrs Smith is a classic example of an Auckland householder paying more but getting less. In 2003 Mrs Smith’s rates were $1,371 in 2003. They are now more than double, up to nearly $3,100 for 2013/2014.

Mrs Smith also pointed out in her entry that, “When the wastewater charges were taken off the rates, the rates didn’t go down to compensate!”

Mrs Smith wins a KraftMaster petrol lawnmower (perfect for mowing the berms).

The other winner is Mr Colin Shearer of Sunnyhills. Though Mr Shearer didn’t provide the required user charge details to qualify for the lawnmower, his un-capped rates increase was the highest we received. As a discretionary prize, the Taxpayers’ Union is giving Mr Shearer a weed-wacker.

Mr Shearer’s uncapped rates increase is 34.2 per cent, from the 2011/2012 base year. That means that his rates will be over a third higher, in less than four years.

While Len Brown is hiding behind the ‘average’ figure of 2.5 per cent, this is merely an attempt to disguise just how much extra some Auckland households are paying. As the entries show, many Aucklanders are paying much more, while the Council is reducing services such as berm mowing.

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Friday the last day to get entries in for Auckland rates competition

Entries close tomorrow for our competition for the householder who can provide evidence of the highest percentage increase in Auckland Council rates and user-charges.  The prize is a lawnmower - just perfect for mowing those berms.

At the same time the Auckland Council is reducing services, a quick flick through the 50 or so entries we've have in so far, show many rates and user charge increases well over the 10% "cap".

The terms and conditions are available here.

Please scan and email your entries to tipline@taxpayers.org.nz as any sent by post will no longer arrive in time.