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2018 Ratepayers' Report published

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union, in partnership with the Auckland Ratepayers Alliance, have today published this year's Ratepayers' Report  – online local government league tables – at www.ratepayersreport.nz

With these league tables, New Zealanders can easily compare their local council performance and financial position against similarly sized councils and types.

By setting out more than two thousand data points, Ratepayers' Report provides transparency, so no-one can credibly claim cherry-picking or a political agenda. The league tables set out metrics such as Council debt, assets, spending and staff costs, all on a per-ratepayer basis.

Some councils do very well in the league tables, some not so much. Every council has checked its own numbers and approved it for accuracy.

Across the country council borrowing continues to skyrocket. On average, councils have increased the share of debt for each of their ratepayers by $244 – a 5.3 percent increase in borrowing in just a year!

The data shows why Auckland Ratepayers, in particular, have cause for real concern, with Council liabilities now $19,537 per ratepayer, up more than $600 since last year. This is second only to Christchurch, and almost four times the national average of $4,876.

Every dollar spent by a Council was earned by a hard working ratepayer. Ratepayers' Report allows ratepayers to see how their money is being spent.

Notable Findings:

  • Christchurch City Council has more debt on a per ratepayer basis than any other council in the country ($21,137). Auckland Council is the second most indebted authority, with debt per ratepayer of $19,537.
  • The average debt per ratepayer of all councils is $4,876.
  • Auckland Council pays 2,250 of its staff salaries in excess of $100,000. Auckland Council also employs more staff per ratepayer than any other unitary authority (17 staff per 1,000 ratepayers). Marlborough District Council, another unitary authority, employs 10 staff per 1,000 ratepayers.
  • The highest average residential rates in New Zealand are in Western Bay of Plenty ($3,234 per year).
  • The lowest average residential rates in New Zealand are in the Mackenzie District ($1,637 per year)

Editors' notes:

Data for the report was compiled by the Taxpayers' Union and was supplied to all councils for them to review prior to publication.

Ratepayers' Report facilitates straightforward comparison of average residential rates via a formula first used by Napier City Council which allows for an 'apples to apples' comparison of average residential rates and charges. Only Westland District Council was unwilling to provide the Taxpayers' Union with the necessary rates information.

Q & A

What is the purpose of Ratepayers’ Report?

Ratepayers' Report provides accountability and transparency to New Zealand ratepayers by allowing them to compare their local territorial authority with others around the country.

Where was the data sourced?

The Taxpayers' Union compiled the data in Ratepayers' Report after reviewing each council's annual report for the year ending June 30, 2017.

Other figures represent the most up to date figures available and were mostly obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act.

The data has been sent to each individual authority for their review and error checking prior to public launch.

Population data is from Statistics New Zealand.

Where did the group finance figures come from?

They are taken from each Council's annual report. It is council figures, plus all those of subsidiary council-controlled organisations.

Which councils are assessed in Ratepayers' Report?

Of New Zealand's 67 territorial authorities, 66 are examined in Ratepayers' Report. That includes all city, district, and unitary councils, with the exclusion of Chatham Islands Territory Council (due to concerns surrounding that Council's workload pressure and unique position). We are currently working to incorporate regional councils into the analysis.

Is this the first Ratepayers' Report?

No. Ratepayers' Report was first published in 2014 jointly by the Taxpayers' Union and Fairfax Media. The Taxpayers’ Union published an updated version in 2017. This is the third edition.

How are the councils grouped?

Unitary authorities – the 5 territorial authorities which also carry out the functions of a regional authority are grouped.

Metropolitan – the 5 large councils with a population of over 120,000.

City – 6 smaller metropolitan councils with populations between 40,000 and 120,000.

Provincial – the largest group, 27 non-metropolitan councils with population over 20,000.

Rural – the remaining 23 councils.

How was the average residential rate calculated?

Calculating an 'apples with apples' figure for residential rates is difficult because councils use various mixes of rates, levies, and user charges. Our approach is based on work by Napier City Council to find an average residential rate. The methodology councils were asked to use to calculate the figures disclosed in Ratepayers' Report is available here.

While we think this approach is useful and fair, the average residential rates figure should be a guide only. It does not, for example, factor in councils' reliance on commercial rates. It also puts unitary authorities at a disadvantage. Unitary authorities (Auckland Council, Nelson City Council, Gisborne, Tasman, and Marlborough District Councils , and the Chatham Islands Council) perform the functions of a regional council and therefore can be expected to have higher rates than other territorial authorities.

The data we have on the average residential rates bill of regional councils is not complete. Our analysis to date shows that regional councils charge anywhere from $42 to $553 per residential ratepayer on top of the bill charged by territorial authorities. Gaps in the data and different definitions for residential ratepayers dictate that these figures should be considered as supporting evidence, rather than determinative.

Were councils consulted in the process?

Yes. Every council was sent a draft version of their respective page to review.

Can the results of the 2018 report be compared to the 2017 edition?

Following sector feedback last year, we have revised the 2018 edition so that all figures are on a ‘per ratepayer’ basis, and not ‘per residential ratepayer’. Last year, some councils considered that our use of the residential numerator disadvantaged them as definitions of ‘residential’ differ.

The change in methodology means that the figures should not be compared to the figures from last year’s report. Nevertheless, we can provide the comparable time-series data on request.


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