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More Transparency

Championing Value For Money From Every Tax Dollar

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.

Local councillors challenged to freeze their own pay

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has written to every local councillor in the country, challenging them to follow the Prime Minister’s lead and freeze their pay rates until local government finances are brought under control.

Last week, MPs showed courage in rejecting a pay rise to reflect pressure on teachers, nurses, and other New Zealanders struggling to make ends meet.

We say that local councillors should do the same for ratepayers, who are being told to expect rate hikes averaging 50 percent or more over the next decade.

We have written to every councillor and mayor in the country, challenging them to follow the Prime Minister’s lead. We have offered each a template they can use to instruct their Chief Executive to return any additional remuneration to the Council’s consolidated fund.

Remuneration around the Council chamber should reflect the pressures currently faced by ratepayers. This wouldn’t just save money – it would give elected members a powerful incentive to more carefully manage ratepayer money.

We look forward to publicly identifying and congratulating elected officials who take this step.

The letter to councillors can be viewed here.

The payroll instruction template can be viewed here.

Racing industry jockeys for more PGF welfare

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Earlier this morning, Radio New Zealand's Jo Moir revealed that the racing industry is set to receive funding for all-weather tracks from the Provincial Growth Fund, along with funding for a digital centre in Dunedin and a sports hub in Northland. 

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones described the projects as: "a coalition dividend", and that "the origins go back to the formation of government."

These projects are just new examples of Winston's Dowry - the cost of entering into coalition 'marriage' with New Zealand First. 

It's an open secret in Wellington that New Zealand First is a long-time friend of the racing industry, which is why it was no surprise that the Government announced subsidies for hot horses on Budget Day. Now we know that the racing industry was an important part of the coalition negotiations. 

If this Government is committed to being "the most open, most transparent Government" it should release the full terms of the coalition agreement between Labour and New Zealand First. Taxpayers deserve to know which projects and subsidies were promised prior to the formation of this Government. 

Winston's Dowry as at 23 August: $5.168 billion ($2989 per household)

The total cost so far is $5.168 billion - or $2989 for the average New Zealand household, although if officials continue to increase the expected cost of policies, this figure will grow. 

"The Dowry" to date:

  • Provincial Growth Fund: $3 billion or $1735 per household, which includes funding for the racing industry revealed today. 
  • Additional funding for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade: $1.144 billion or $661 per household
  • Additional funding for the Ministry of Defence: $426 million or $246 per household
  • Additional funding for learning support: $272.8 million or $157 per household
  • Additional funding for Oranga Tamariki: $269.9 million or $156 per household 
  • Adjusted 'Hot horses' tax break, the new Forestry Hub, and a rename for the Ministry of Children: $55.4 million or $32.05 per household
  • Haumaha Inquiry: $150,000

 

Dowry Update: $150,000 inquiry seriously flawed

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It was revealed at the Acting Prime Minister's post-cabinet press conference yesterday that Tracey Martin (a New Zealand First Minister) will be in charge of an inquiry into the appointment process of Deputy Commissioner of Police, Wally Haumaha. 

Haumaha was selected as New Zealand First candidate in 2005, but did not contest the election. 

According to Thomas Coughlan of Newsroom, the inquiry does not answer 'key questions' regarding the appointment of Wally Haumaha, including whether Cabinet would have appointed him to his role if they had been aware of comments he had made regarding a 2004 investigation of police sexual offending. 

The result for taxpayers is a $150,000 inquiry with serious flaws. 

Winston's Dowry as at 24 July: $5.168 billion ($2989 per household)

The total cost so far is $5.168 billion - or $2989 for the average New Zealand household, although if officials continue to increase the expected cost of policies, this figure will grow. 

"The Dowry" to date:

  • Provincial Growth Fund: $3 billion or $1735 per household
  • Additional funding for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade: $1.144 billion or $661 per household
  • Additional funding for the Ministry of Defence: $426 million or $246 per household
  • Additional funding for learning support: $272.8 million or $157 per household
  • Additional funding for Oranga Tamariki: $269.9 million or $156 per household 
  • Adjusted 'Hot horses' tax break, the new Forestry Hub, and a rename for the Ministry of Children: $55.4 million or $32.05 per household
  • Haumaha Inquiry: $150,000

Hastings District Councillors must all be skipping breakfast

As reported in the Hawke's Bay Today, a New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union analysis of catering costs at Hawke's Bay councils has revealed Hastings District Councillors to be guilty of ratepayer-funded gluttony. 
 
Hastings District Council spent $50,375.88 on catering for its elected members in 2017 – or about $1,000 a week.  Across all of Council, the total catering expense was a staggering $116,371.19.
 
Hawke’s Bay Regional Council also spent a significant $44,955.63 on catering across Council. At Central Hawke’s Bay District Council this figure was $34,362.36, and even the small Wairoa District Council spent $29,623.77.
 
In contrast, Napier District Council spent just $4,285.44 on catering across all of Council.
 
Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “Why is it that Hastings District Councillors need to spend more than ten times the amount on food than Napier’s entire Council? What could possibly be the explanation for this? Do Hastings’ Councillors have eyes bigger than their stomachs, are they forgetting to eat their morning Weet-bix?”
 
“A tip-off reveals a possible explanation – Instagram posts from a local caterer advertise the lavish platters prepared for the Council. It appears Councillors are eating better than the ratepayers who fund their salaries.”
 

 

 
“Ratepayers are forced to pack their own lunch to save money, while the Council’s feasts are featured on Instagram. This gluttony is a slap in the face for ratepayers who expect their money to be used on essential services. Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst ought to make a captain’s call, and scrap ratepayer-funded feasts in favour of the old-fashioned packed lunch.”
 
Catering expenses at Hawke’s Bay Councils, 2017:

  • Hastings District Council: $116,371.19 (Further enquiry revealed $50,375.88 was for elected members)
  • Hawke's Bay Regional Council: $44,955.63
  • Central Hawke's Bay District Council: $34,362.36
  • Wairoa District Council: $29,623.77
  • Napier City Council: $4,285.44

All figures were obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act.

Catering expenses for councils across the country will be released by the Taxpayers' Union in coming days.

Report: 102 Ways to Save Money in Local Government

102 Ways coverThe New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has today released 102 Ways to Save Money in Local Government – a report that lists big and small opportunities for local councils to save money and reduce the burden on ratepayers.

The 102 suggestions, many of which were provided to the Union by mayors across the country, range from the common-sense to the novel. Taken together, they serve as a challenge to unimaginative and undisciplined councils who allow wasteful spending to accumulate and then tell ratepayers to expect rate hikes.

The Taxpayers’ Union advocates instead for a culture where fiscal prudence is not a cause for celebration, but an expectation, just as it is within private organisations and households across the country.

Some highlighted suggestions:

  • Pay down council debt (#1)
  • Offer prizes to staff who suggest efficiencies – but allow anonymous entries (#2)
  • Scrap political advisors (#10)
  • Stop sending staff to conferences (#30)
  • Rent out under-utilised office space (#68)

Some more novel ideas:

  • Graze cattle and sheep on council land to save on grass cutting (#6)
  • Pay cafés to open bathroom facilities to the public, instead of building new toilets (#17)
  • Transition to LED lighting (#33)
  • Turn down the heating at council buildings (#37)
  • Ditch colourful, photography-heavy annual reports (#81)

New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom, in a foreword to the report, says, “I support this Taxpayers’ Union initiative to highlight opportunities for councils, large and small, to identify savings or efficiencies in their operations to minimise costs to ratepayers and deliver value. While I do not advocate some of the more radical ideas which the authors of this document have included, no doubt to grab a few headlines, I celebrate those who are committed to sharing ideas and encouraging open and honest debate.”

Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance spokesperson Jo Holmes says, “Some of the initiatives included in this report run the risk of being dismissed as mere common sense. We don’t mind a dose of common sense where it saves money at the town hall - exactly what ratepayers are calling for.”

The Taxpayers’ Union would like to thank the Mayors who responded to the Union's invitation to submit ideas and examples of how their councils have saved ratepayer money.

Christchurch City Council buckles: releases $1.2m “touch wall” spending

After being faced with legal action from the Taxpayers’ Union (and potentially the Attorney General), Christchurch City Council has buckled and confirmed the amount spent on its seven-metre ‘touch wall’ – $1.245 million.

This was an eleventh-hour backdown from the Council. We literally had the affidavit signed, papers prepared, and were ten minutes away from filing in the High Court.

The fact this spending, originally requested back in January, is now exposed is a major win for transparency. It send a message to councils across the country that ratepayers expect and will demand transparency. Councils that ignore freedom of information laws will face very real legal consequences. This was to be in court in a matter of days.

The cost of this touch wall is, as we suspected all along, enormous. It says everything about the Council’s priorities that they would spend over a million dollars on a touch screen while basic infrastructure is in poor shape and rates are skyrocketing.

Like media organisations and other watchdog groups, we are heavy users of freedom of information requests, but we have never seen such stubborn secrecy over what you would expect to be a relatively minor spending item. This secrecy has now backfired – in a kind of ‘Streisand effect’, the touch wall’s cost has turned into a much bigger story. Let this be a lesson to politicians try to hide where our money is being spent.

Taxpayers' Union welcomes Ombudsman judgment against Christchurch City Council

The Ombudsman has invited the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union to bring enforcement proceedings to the High Court over Christchurch City Council’s failure to release the spending figure for the seven metre ‘touch wall’ in its new library. He has also asked the Attorney General to consider doing the same.

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “Over a month after the Ombudsman recommended releasing the spending figure, we’ve seen nothing from the Council. This is brazen, especially under a mayor who has been promising more transparency over the use of ratepayer money.”

“The Ombudsman has made an excellent and correct decision, first in recommending the release of the information, and now in approaching the Attorney General. We’ve never seen such a damning judgement against a public body.”

“We are currently seeking legal advice – bringing action against the Council ourselves is something we are considering, regardless of whether the Attorney General does the same.”

“Christchurch ratepayers have a significant interest in this kind of spending, especially as both the library and town hall projects face budget blowouts, and rates are being hiked by an average of six percent annually.”

“But this issue is bigger than Christchurch. For too long public agencies have flouted freedom of information law. If we need to take Christchurch City Council and Lianne Dalziel to Court to set a precedent that this sort of disregard for transparency has consequences, then it’s worth the effort.”

Taxpayers’ Union welcomes Rex Nicholls to Board of Directors

Rex NichollsThe New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is pleased to announce that former Wellington City Councillor Rex Nicholls has joined the organisation's board of directors.
 
Rex’s background is in engineering, project management, and property investment. His mix of civic and private achievements place him perfectly as an ambassador for taxpayers.

Rex says:

“I’ve always operated on the basis that money in my pocket will be much more efficiently spent than if I run it past a Government Department first. Spending other people’s money should carry a huge duty of care – but it seldom does.”

More information about the Taxpayers’ Union team is available here: www.taxpayers.org.nz/our_team

'Hot horse' subsidy costs to sky-rocket: Winston's Dowry grows

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It was revealed last week, that the tax break for racing industry bloodstock is expected to cost significantly more than previously anticipated. The tax breaks for the racing industry have faced ridicule as the only tax cut in Budget 2018.

That's not surprising: the racing industry has historically been a strong supporter of New Zealand First. The Electoral Commission recently found that Sir Patrick Hogan was in breach of the Electoral Act when he funded a full page ad in support of the party prior to the General Election last year. 

At Budget 2018, the cost of the tax break was expected to equal $4.8 million over the next four years, however IRD officials expect the tax break will cost up to $40 million - a 733% increase in the cost of the policy. That means taxpayers will be on the line for an additional $35.2 million over the next four years, which is all added onto Winston's Dowry!

Winston's Dowry as at 2 July: $5.168 billion ($2989 per household)

The total cost so far is $5.168 billion - or $2989 for the average New Zealand household, although if officials continue to increase the expected cost of policies, this figure will grow. 

"The Dowry" to date:

  • Provincial Growth Fund: $3 billion or $1735 per household
  • Additional funding for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade: $1.144 billion or $661 per household
  • Additional funding for the Ministry of Defence: $426 million or $246 per household
  • Additional funding for learning support: $272.8 million or $157 per household
  • Additional funding for Oranga Tamariki: $269.9 million or $156 per household 
  • Adjusted 'Hot horses' tax break, the new Forestry Hub, and a rename for the Ministry of Children: $55.4 million or $32.05 per household

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