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Wairoa responds to Taxpayers' Union rates claim

Further to our questioning of the use of a rates figure that does not include new targeted rates, the Wairoa District Council has issued a media release:

Wairoa District Council Defends Against Negativity

Wairoa is transforming into a vibrantly energetic part of New Zealand and will no longer accept spin-driven criticism. This is the message from newly-appointed CEO of Wairoa District Council Fergus Power, in response to recent criticism by the New Zealand Taxpayers Union over a proposed budget increase.

Describing it as just another example of ‘Wairoa-bashing’, Mr Power said it was a cheap shot that distracted from the fact that the district is very much open for business.

“I have been appointed to bring about a transformation within Council, and within the district. The first step requires active rebut of the sort of nonsense that has been promulgated for years – that Wairoa is in decay, has inept leadership, and is incapable of a sustainable, prosperous future. In fact, Wairoa district has the youngest and most vibrant population structure of all of the cities and districts in the Hawke’s Bay region – with 25% of the population aged between 0-14,” said Mr Power.

“That is backed up with some of the warmest and most welcoming people, a rich and proud Maori culture, the kindest climate imaginable, and a surfeit of fish, game, and opportunities to recreate in the vast outdoors – which includes the stunning Lake Waikaremoana and Te Urewera National Park, and the world-renowned beaches of the Mahia Peninsula, with sun, sand and surfing”, he said.

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little said Wairoa would no longer accept baseless scaremongering.

“I will defend Wairoa district’s reputation aggressively. We are no longer a punching bag. We are punching above our weight and we have much work to do as a community”.

"When the punching bag looks like blue sea, warm sand, sunshine, and an energised and dedicated community committed to a complete transformation of the district – it becomes a slightly harder target. In fact, why would you even want to diminish it?

NZTU criticism was centred around the Draft Annual Plan 2014-2015, which is currently in the consultation phase.

The plan includes a 5.43 percent increase in the budget, which does not include the funding requirements for the Mahia and Opoutama Wastewater Schemes. Ratepayers not involved in either wastewater scheme are not affected by these funding requirements.

Participants in the wastewater schemes are being consulted with separately, as they have several options for repayment. Figures that relate to these schemes in the Draft Plan reflect the default repayment option, although the choices those participants make will have a significant impact on the projected rates requirement.

All Wairoa ratepayers are sent individual draft rates notices, which record the proposed rates amount for their individual properties under the Draft Annual Plan.

Visit www.wairoadc.govt.nz to view the plan in full and make an online submission. Consultation closes at noon on Thursday, June 12.

Ends

We reject that our comments were 'Wairoa bashing' and would rather stick to the issues. 

We accept that the Wairoa District Mayor and CEO were not intentionally misleading Wairoa ratepayers in relation to rate increases related to the Mahia and Opoutama Wastewater Schemes. We also accept that the Council has consulted widely on those schemes and those ratepayers affected are likely to be aware, or will soon be aware, of the financial implications of the schemes and following further clarification we without reservation apologise for any malignment of the character of the Mayor and CEO of the Wairoa District Council.

We still believe that the Council was wrong to use the 5.43% in material issued publicly, without making it clear that this figure did not include spending and rates related to the wastewater schemes. The draft annual plan shows that total rates income (including the targeted rates) is estimated to increase by 15.9%. We thought that it was proper, and still think it proper, to raise the matter publicly. In part we relied on a statement from a Council officer  that the wording was ‘loose’. After assurances from the Council’s CEO that the Council had not meant to mislead the public, we are happy to let the matter be debated as part of the normal draft annual plan consultation process.

London return for the money written-off on rail since 2008

We’re currently working though the budget announcements and stack of material released last week.  What’s caught our eye are the unbelievable amounts taxpayers are forking out for KiwiRail.  On Budget day the Government announced a further $198 million of funding for KiwiRail’s Turnaround Plan. That brings the total cost to taxpayers of rail to a whopping $12.2 billion dollars since rail was renationalised in 2008.

Worse, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee has warned that KiwiRail is likely to need more what the Government is calling a 'turn around plan'.

The $12.2 billion taxpayer money written off on KiwiRail is equivalent to over $2,700 per taxpayer - nearly enough buy every Kiwi a return flight to London.

Per household, the amount is $6,900 - enough to buy a good, reliable second hand car.

The $12.2 billion refers to the total Crown investment of $2.4 billion since 2008 and write downs totalling $9.8 billion. 

We've put out a statement calling on the Government to do a U-turn on KiwiRail. At what point will the Government stop throwing good money after bad? Taxpayers should not be burdened with bringing dead rats to life.

It is incredible that for all this money, we still have locomotives with asbestos and ferries that are lemons. We think taxpayers deserve better.

Oops - $2 billion mistake in budget appropriations

 

We’ve spent most of this week immersed in the budget documents and making notes of potentially questionable spending or unusually large increases.

To our great surprise yesterday we noticed that one of the primary growth partnerships (PGPs) that the Government is funding appeared to have undergone a massive growth in spending. We’ve expressed much concern in the past about PGPs and consider them inappropriate corporate welfare and the Government picking favourites.

According to the budget estimates distributed on Budget Day, the New Zealand Sheep Industry Transformation Project (NZSTX) is to receive 644 times more than in 2013/14. As you can see from the scan below, the budget documents show an increase in spending from  $3.3 million to just under $2.4 billion dollars.

For comparison, $2.4 billion is roughly the same amount of appropriations for corrections, courts and customs combined!

We've previously made noise that the hundreds of millions committed to PGP funding is wasteful spending.. So you can imagine our shock when we saw that the Sheep Industry would be receiving close to $2.4 billion of hard earned taxpayer money.

We emailed the Minister of Finance’s office and have been told, to our relief, that the figure is mistakenly 1,000 times more than intended.

We are delighted that the Sheep Industry haven’t had a bank error in their favour of over $500 from every New Zealander. Like anyone else they might want all their Christmases to come at once, but thankfully the New Zealand Merino Company, who runs the programme, won’t get to run off into the sunset with designer sheep bedecked in glittering jewels.

The mistake reminds us of the Westpac couple who went on the run after $10 million was mistakenly deposited in their bank account. Luckily this one is more easily rectified as the money is not yet spent!

Vote Primary Industries by TaxpayersUnion

 

***Correction*** In much the same way Treasury made a mistake, an earlier version of this post referred to 2.4billion equalling roughly the same as the total amount spent on Education in Budget 2014. That was incorrect. The $2.4 billion only relates to output expenses in Vote Education.

Where does 5.43% actually equal 15.9%?

Wairoa ratepayers should be furious with the Wairoa District Council for misleading the public on its forecast rate hikes. Earlier today the Taxpayers’ Union discovered that statements by the District’s Mayor and CEO that rates are forecast to increase by 5.43% are fanciful. The real figure is in fact 15.9%.

Earlier today the Taxpayer's Union were alerted to a slight problem with two statements contained in Wairoa's draft annual plan, currently open to public consultation.

In the introductory statement by the Mayor and Council CEO they claim that on average rates are increasing by 5.43%. But when we do the math, not based on the spin but on the financial numbers in the same paper, we come to a whopping 15.9%

So how do the two amounts reconcile? We wrote to the CEO to ask:

 

Here's the draft annual plan we quote. Note pages 1 and 91: 

Late this afternoon we received a call from a Council official who reports to the CEO and had a frank conversation. Amazingly the official acknowledged what he termed as 'loose' wording by the CEO and Mayor. Apparently when the figure was originally reported to the Council it included a significant proviso that two new rates were not included.

The 5.43% figure does not include two new rates which relate to two waste water schemes. Once you include those the rates increase is nearly three times the percentage the Mayor and CEO were trumpeting.

We're calling on the Wairoa Council CEO, Fergus Power, and Mayor, Craig Little, to apologise to Wairoa ratepayers, and correct their misleading statements in the draft annual plan.

What do you think? Acceptable spin, or misleading the public? Comment on our Facebook page here.

Dusting off the cheque book to qualify for tax relief

Yesterday we were scathing of Mr English's lack of tax cuts in yesterday's budget.

Nevertheless, we were eager to qualify for the only tax cut that was it - the removal of cheque duty - worth about $1 a year per New Zealander.

Budget lock up

To avoid missing out on the tax cut, earlier today we delivered a cheque to The Treasury to cover the lunch provided at yesterday’s budget lock-up.

Rather than pay for our taxpayer funded lunch with cash, we dusted off our cheque book to make the payment. As only the minority of New Zealanders who still use cheques will qualify for the tax relief, we wanted to make sure we are among them.

Yesterday’s budget forecasts that over the next four years, total surpluses will equal $4,935 per household. Of that, Kiwi taxpayers get back $1 from the only tax cut contained in yesterday's budget.

We’re calling on the Government to lay out a clear and meaningful program of reducing tax and compliance costs.

Cheque and note to Treasury

The Taxpayers’ Union fights for lower taxes and value for money from every tax dollar. New Zealanders are welcome to donate their tax cut by clicking here (or of course sending a cheque!).

NBR: Ratepayers underpin vested interests’ development ambitions

With all the focus on yesterday's budget we nearly missed this piece in yesterday's NZ Property Investor.

Ratepayers underpin vested interests’ development ambitions

The Taxpayers' Union says councils around the country are not telling ratepayers about the cost of capital that ratepayers are underwriting for local authority subsidies.

Jordan Williams brought up the issue in relation to Greater Wellington Regional Council and losses arising from its subsidiary CentrePort as a result of earthquake damage last year.

Click here to continue reading (requires NBR subscription).

Autotalk on electric vehicles

White elephant says Taxpayer’s Union, not so says APEV Autotalk - 01 May 2014

The Taxpayers’ Union says it has uncovered what is probably the most expensive staff car park in the country, located at Z Energy on Customhouse Quay in Wellington.
However the Association for the promotion of electric vehicles (APEV) disagrees.
Between 2010 and 2012, the Wellington City Council spent $100,000 on a zero-emissions vehicle programme, and only thing to show for it is a charging station, which is a white elephant claims the Taxpayer’s Union.
Most days it is occupied by conventional vehicles owned by the staff at the Z Energy station according to the Taxpayer’s Union.
“Instead of being used to charge electric vehicles, the ratepayer funded charging station is used as a staff car park for the service station attendants,” says Taxpayers’ Union executive director Jordan Williams.

John Bishop on consultation irony

On Monday a fellow Taxpayers' Union board member and I spent a fascinating morning with a group of academics, middle level public servants and representatives of NGOs responding to a request for our views about 'open government'. Sounded interesting; well yes, but it turned out to be a quick fire consultation about how the government could fulfil its requirement to report progress of open government to some international body and agreement it signed up to.

The report is due by the end of July and along with some discussions on Loomio this meeting seemed to be about the sum total of consultation on the matter.  This is deeply ironic given that some of the values of open government are that consultation should be timely, appropriate and that there is enough time taken for interested parties to discuss and debate their positions and learn about the positions of others. The session was very top down. The first question as whether a bunch of documents, variously called Better Public Services, ICT Strategy and Action Plan and the National Integrity System, were an appropriate starting point. They probably were, given that there was really no other obvious starting point.

But the real agenda quickly became apparent when those attending said plainly and simply that making data available wasn’t actually the most important part of open government. Nor was enabling citizens to transact with government agencies (renewing their car registration, applying for a passport, and the like) really anything about more democracy – welcome though such initiatives were.

Officials looked a bit disconcerted and chagrined.  This wasn’t going according to plan. Their primary interest was finding something meaningful to report and preferably with enough of patina of consultation to enable them to say that this was a consensus view from societal groups and not simply the view of officials. The participants, mainly Wellington based policy wonks and advisors, well understood the game and worked to fulfil their needs.

However the discussion was constructive and useful. There was clear consensus about

·       Reviewing the Official Information Act to reduce delays and obstruction

·       Publishing Best Practice guideline on public consultation

·       Defining and codifying “accountability” and responsibility” in the public sector, consistent with the ability of officials to give quality advice

·       Giving the responsibility for open government to a single agency.

For what it’s worth the Taxpayers' Union view of accountability (or responsibility) revolves around being able to find out who made which decision, when and why, seeking to achieve which specified objectives, based on what evidence and costs, knowing that the evidence and costs were themselves robust, and when the programme or activity has been implemented being able to find what results were achieved, and where these results were short or astray from the original objectives what will be done about it, by whom and when.

We believe that it is far too difficult to find out how well (or badly) taxpayers money was spend by government, and that goals such as transparency and accountability needed to be strengthened by coherent actions which match results against objectives and count achievements against costs.

Bureaucratic speak

Finally a couple of examples of bureaucratic jargon to round out the day: My two favourites were:

“We need to systematise our learnings here and develop some protocols around them.” And this little gem of positive sounding word smithing; “develop” became “develop a strategy to strengthen”. Of such debates is a day of discussion in Wellington composed.

Union welfare at Parliament

This morning's Herald on Sunday carries a story on bonus for Parliament's unionists:

The agency in charge of parliamentary staff has agreed to a cash bonus for union members, despite John Key's National Party previously denouncing such deals as discriminatory.

An email obtained by the Herald on Sunday shows union members will receive a one-off, $1000 bonus from the Parliamentary Service - double the amount non-union members will get.

During the Helen Clark Labour administration, union staff once landed an $800 bonus. Act and National blasted the pay-off then, calling it "corrupt" and accusing Labour of cronyism.

Despite that this is union welfare and a political subsidy for the left goes on. We know of parliamentary staff who feel uncomfortable with the pressure and financial incentive from the Parliamentary Service to join a union.

The Government should scrap these kinds of deals. It made sense that the Labour Party would want to ensure its trade union donors are well funded. The fact it is continuing under National is outrageous.

Email on bonus to Parliamentary staff

The email the Herald on Sundays refers to was sent through to our tip line last week.  Click "continue reading" to view.

 


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