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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.

Len Brown "still has questions to answer"

Brown thinks Aucklanders just want Council to get on with work Newstalk ZB - 14/12/2013

He may have been officially cleared, but the Taxpayers' Union believes Len Brown still has questions to answer.
An Ernst and Young review has revealed the Auckland Mayor failed to declare tens of thousands of dollars worth of complimentary hotel rooms and upgrades.
It also shows ten percent of texts and calls on a cellphone the ratepayers funded, were to his mistress.
Taxpayers Union spokesman Jordan Williams doesn't buy the idea the report puts the Mayor in the clear.
"There's still plenty of questions to ask about his misuse of public resources.
"We still have plenty of questions around this trip to China, and particularly why council officials originally mislead us about the existence of the trip."
Len Brown is hoping Aucklanders will consider his conduct, including extensive personal use of a council cellphone, in context.
The Mayor thinks he's done nothing wrong, and says the rules aren't clear.
"There are differences of opinion, interpretation, and upgrades issue around gifting, the phone utilization, some of the stuff around my car.
"There hasn't been a real clarity around that when there needs to be, and learnings."
Len Brown says an overhaul of the issues will make the rules more clear.

Report doesn't address secret trip to China - Taxpayers' Union Yahoo! New Zealand - 13/12/2013

City staff spent $220,000 at America's Cup

Anger at ATEED spending on America's Cup NewstalkZB - 6/12/2013

The New Zealand Taxpayers Union is lashing out at council-controlled Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) for spending more than $200,000 on sending staff and media to the America's Cup in San Francisco.
They say sending a few key staff is justified, but 11 staff and seven members of the media is more of a junket than a work trip.
Executive Director Jordan Williams says its would have contributed more to San Francisco's economic development than Auckland's.
He says they are filing an Official Information Request on the nature of the spending.
"We want to know precisely what they were doing over there. Were they sitting on boats watching the America's Cup, or were they actually working?
"That's the key question for ratepayers."

 

Open letter to Jacinda Ardern

Yesterday the Labour Party confirmed its proposal for a new Children's Ministry and Minister. The Taxpayers' Union emailed Jacinda Ardern, the party's Spokesperson for Children.

Dear Ms Ardern,
We understand from your public comments today that the Labour Party is proposing a new “Children’s Ministry” and “Children’s Minister” (refer to http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1312/S00106/report-slams-government-inaction-on-protecting-our-kids.htm).
The Taxpayers’ Union supports all evidence based measures to help Kiwi kids succeed. We are not certain what yet another ministry (and job title) will achieve in terms of results on the ground. As you are probably aware we welcomed your announcement last month to abolish the Families Commission quango, a move we hoped signalled Labour’s intention to divert resources into front line services, rather than bureaucrats writing reports such as the one titled “Eating Together at Mealtimes”.
As such, we seek the background material on the proposed Ministry/Minister that would answer the following questions:
  1. What are the cost projections to establish the Ministry?
  2. What is the projected per year baseline funding?
  3. Will the Ministry’s primary focus be policy advice or service delivery? If the latter, what responsibility and resources will be taken away from CYF, MSD or other ministries/departments? 
  4. In terms of the number of FTE employees, how large do you propose the Ministry to be?
  5. Can you point to any overseas models or research which would indicate how you propose the new Ministry will work, its service delivery, and outcomes?
  6. How would the Ministry differ from the existing Families Commission?
We propose to post this email on our website. If you have any objection, please let me know without delay.
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union Inc.  

Once we have a response, we'll post here.

In the mean time, we're planning our activities for election year. We're considering a 'cost calculator' service to track the promises from each party and check what politicians plan to do with taxpayers' money.  Do you think it's worth us doing? Give us your thoughts by commenting on our Facebook page.

Kaipara District Council’s wastewater project - an expensive audit failure?

The report of the Auditor-General’s inquiry into the EcoCare wastewater project was released on Tuesday. It revealed serious failures in the management of the project, and strongly criticises Audit NZ. Inaccurate record keeping, mismanagement of the project, lack of financial advice and expertise, and reliance on private partnerships saw a huge budget blowout, with costs exceeding over $63m. For example, the effluent disposal bill alone increased from $361,000 to $14m.

How did the Council pay for this budget blowout? By raising rates for Mangawhai residents. The annual cost to ratepayers was a consideration in assessing the affordability of the project. However, the summary of the report reveals that the Council in fact decided to “increase the number of estimated ratepayers that would be covered by the scheme and contribute to funding it”. This is a fundamental flaw, and the Auditor-General concluded that this decision was not based on an adequate account of predicted growth in the area. This, as well as the undisclosed liabilities are precisely the things Audit NZ should have picked up on.

Overall the report suggests Audit NZ was failing audit 101

The Auditor-General's office (which includes Audit NZ) is supposed to provide assurance that government departments are performing as they should. The report details that:

  • audit quality of the project was varied;
  • the quality of documentation for some audit files were inadequate, especially those explaining why judgments were reached;
  • there was a failure to reassess the project between 2006-2009 despite significant changes that could have been an audit risk; and
  • the auditor’s reliance on information from Kaipara District Council’s management (which, from our examples above, were also clearly inadequate).

Joel Cayford has written a blog post evaluating the report. He’s gone a step further than the Taxpayers’ Union, and believes that an unreserved apology does not cut it, concluding that the Auditor-General's 'head is on the block'. 

Many audit failures internationally have led to large payouts by audit companies and their insurers to shareholders. Here, the tab was left with Kaipara ratepayers. The report does not address what we think the issue is: redress for the Kaipara ratepayers who paid the bill.

State sector CEO pay

Pay top state bosses even more: report - DominionPost 30/11/2013

Jordan Williams, executive director of the Taxpayers' Union, said the report acknowledged the "tenuous" connection between performance and pay in the public sector, but overlooked difference with the private sector.

"Traditionally public sector employees have expected less pay in exchange for having better job security and it's disappointing that the report doesn't acknowledge that," he said.

Organisations in both the public and private sectors were now in a race to pay senior staff the most.

"Instead of asking 'how much do we need to pay to get this person', the question seems to be 'what's everyone else paying, let's go just above that average', and we have a race skywards."

Waste Watch: Transpower spend $1.2million on a cafe and reception

What's the difference between a 'cafe-style space' and a cafe?

Not a lot, but according to the government-owned monopoly Transpower, a $1.2million 'cafe-style space' is value for money unlike asking staff to visit the dozen cafes within a few hundred metres of its Wellington office building.

In 2012, the taxpayer owned company spent $1.2million refurbishing its reception and building "The Wire" a place where, according to Transpower CEO Patrick Strange, "we can engage and collaborate with each other, and with our guests."

Back in September, a Taxpayer's Union volunteer asked about the new cafe Transpower had built at 96 The Terrace, Wellington. It seems that calling it a "cafe" caused some offence. Transpower said (even bolding the text to emphasis the point):

The space on the ground level of Transpower House is not a café – it is a space for Transpower staff to meet internally and with our key stakeholders. 

We were told that the combined cost of the cafe space and adjacent reception area was $1.2million.

Unfortunately, Transpower would not initially tell us how long its lease for the building had remaining. After some haggling, we learned that the current lease expires in 2014.

Is $1.2million on a cafe and reception value for money?


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