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2019 Ratepayers’ Report released, methodology explained

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The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union, in partnership with the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance, has 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 for 2017/18 against similar-sized councils and types.

Setting out more than two thousand data points, the Ratepayers' Report provides transparency, and per-household figures ensure fair comparisons between councils. The league tables rank Councils on metrics including average residential rates, staffing costs, and Council liabilities among others.

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “Some councils do very well in the league tables, some far less so. All figures were sent to councils twice to double check before release.”

“Rates are still on the rise. On average, councils have increased their rates by $90, with the highest rates increase coming from Manawatu District Council which increased rates by $364, or 14%.”

“The data suggests Auckland ratepayers in particular have cause for concern, with the highest average rates in the country, and council liabilities of $21,941 per household. Auckland Council’s liabilities are second only to earthquake-affected Christchurch, and over three times the national average.”

“Every dollar spent by a Council was earned by a hard-working ratepayer. Ratepayers' Report allows ratepayers to understand if they could be getting a better deal.”

Notable Findings:

  • Christchurch City Council continues to have the highest liabilities per household compared to any other council ($25,402). Auckland Council follows in second place, with liabilities per household of $21,941. "That alone is an incredible figure," says Mr Williams. "Think about every letterbox in Auckland having a $21,941 credit card bill in it thanks to Len Brown and Phil Goff."
  • The average liabilities per household of all councils is $6,197.
  • Auckland Council ranks highest for average residential rates at $3,387. There are 2,473 staff paid salaries greater than $100,000 at Auckland Council and its CCOs.
  • The lowest average residential rates in New Zealand are levied by the Southland District Council ($1,737).
  • The least efficient council in terms of staffing is Westland District Council, with a staff member for every 19 households. The most efficient is Tararua District Council, with a staff member for every 117 households.
  • Only five Councils meet the full criteria for prudent Audit and Risk Committees. Two Councils, Palmerston North City Council and Waimakariri District Council, fail to meet any of the recommended oversight policies. Western Bay of Plenty fails to even have a separate Audit and Risk Committee, which is considered basic financial prudence.

Press releases:

Highest and lowest average rates

Highest and lowest liabilities

Auckland highlights

Wellington highlights

Canterbury highlights

Editors' notes:

Data for the report was compiled by the Taxpayers' Union and was supplied to all councils for 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, based on each council’s definition of a residential rating unit. Only Westland, Buller, and Waikato district councils were unwilling to provide the Taxpayers' Union with the necessary rates information.

For non-rates figures (i.e. liabilities, personnel costs) we have this year assessed council data using Stats NZ’s 2018 household estimates, with some councils opting to replace this estimate with an exact figure. We have done this because councils have different definitions of what constitutes a residential ratepayer or ‘rating unit’.

Queenstown-Lakes, Taupo, and Thames-Coromandel District Councils objected to the use of Stats NZ’s household figures, as these tend to exclude properties left empty, i.e. baches. As a result, per-household figures for these districts may be somewhat inflated.

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, 2018.

Other figures were mostly obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, and cover the 2017/18 financial year.

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

Population and household data is from Stats NZ.

Where did the group finance figures come from?

They are taken from each Council's annual report. They are 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 the Chatham Islands Council (due to concerns surrounding that Council's workload pressure and unique position).

What about regional councils?

While we anticipate including regional councils in future editions of the Report, the data we have on their average residential rates bills is at this stage incomplete. Our research suggests 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.

Ratepayers’ Report does, however, include Regional Council information in its analysis of Audit and Risk Committees.

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 have since published updated versions in both 2017 and 2018. This is the fourth 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.
Regional – the 11 Councils that make up the regions of New Zealand.

How was the average residential rate calculated?

Calculating an 'apples to 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.

Unitary authorities (Auckland Council, Nelson City Council, Gisborne, Tasman, and Marlborough District Councils) perform the functions of a regional council and therefore can be expected to have higher rates than other territorial authorities.

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 2019 report be compared to the 2018 edition?

This year, for non-rates figures (i.e. liabilities, staff) we have assessed council data using Stats NZ’s 2018 household estimates, with some councils opting to replace this estimate with an exact figure. We have done this because councils have different definitions of what constitutes a residential ratepayer or ‘rating unit’.

The updated methodology means that (aside from the average rates metric which remains unchanged) the per-household figures should not be compared to the per-ratepayer figures in last year’s report. Nevertheless, we can provide the comparable time-series data for individual councils on request.


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