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The Taxpayers’ Union, with support from the Auckland Property Investors’ Association, Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance and Democracy Action today launched a briefing paper on Auckland Council’s new Mana Whenua Cultural Impact Assessment provisions. The paper, entitled The Taniwha Tax: Briefing paper on Auckland Council’s new Mana Whenua rules.
We believe that every Auckland homeowner or potential homeowner needs to know how the new provisions affect them.
Most affected property owners will not become aware of the provisions until they suddenly find there is a site on or near their land, or they are told they may need to get a Cultural Impact Assessment (CIA) when applying for resource consent. Worse, the Council isn’t even sure that some of the 3,600 sites deemed ‘of value’ even exist. It didn’t bother to check.
The Briefing Paper quotes extensive criticisms of the provisions made on behalf of some of New Zealand’s largest corporates, including Vodafone, Spark, Chorus, Transpower, Vector, Watercare.
If you thought that navigating RMA red tape was hard, these provisions could require you to negotiate with up to nineteen Mana Whenua groups in order to gain development consent, the rules mean that resource consents may be subject to expensive modifications, even if the reasons are entirely spiritual in nature.
The Council has previously tried to dampen public concerns, claiming that not many Cultural Impact Assessments have been required so far. They ignore the cost and delay of applicants having to go to iwi groups to ask whether a CIA is required.
Most of the messages contained in the Paper are not those of the Taxpayers’ Union. We have deliberately repeated what would otherwise go undiscovered in the files of lawyers, planners and Council insiders. Our work is to shine some democratic light onto what has happened."
UPDATE: To check if your property is one of the estimated 18,000 affected by these provisions, please click here for our guide.
That’s right – the Auckland Council’s CEO has a secretary that is advertising for a secretary.
We have all heard about stories of politicians looking to empire build courtesy of the taxpayers’ pocket, but this really takes the cake.
No wonder Auckland Council now has more bureaucrats on living off ratepayers than all of the councils it replaced combined.
“Your day will involve providing administrative support as and where required, this includes anything from managing correspondence, records management to diary management. This role is vital to ensuring that items are actioned, recorded and accurate.”
If that’s the role of the secretary’s secretary, what’s left for the secretary to do?
At a time when the Council needs to find savings of $860 per ratepayer, empire building in Council offices should not be tolerated.
With nearly 6,000 bureaucrats on the pay-roll, 811 of which are earning over $100,000 a year, Len Brown and his CEO ought to be out trimming the fat rather than increasing the burden on ratepayers even further.
News that Auckland Transport forked out $122,000 of ratepayers’ money for a six month trial of an employee shuttle service has gone down in Auckland like a lead balloon.
Auckland Council has been left scrambling in an attempt to save face.
We are concerned by the prevalence of the cavalier attitude towards ratepayers’ money that is seemingly embedded in Auckland Council and some of its associated organisations.
A concerned supporter of the Taxpayers’ Union has written in to us with a list of questions that need to be raised about this latest Auckland Transport gaffe. We’ve condensed them down to the following:
Yesterday afternoon we received a tipoff that Auckland Council recently funded a one day conference to explore the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved, also known as polyamory.
Last month the gaynz.com website reported that among the first recipients of Auckland Council’s first ever 'Rainbow Door Fund’ was 'Poly Panel, Discussions around Queer Polyamory’, a one day event exploring a framework of ethical, healthy polyamory relationships.
We think that Auckland ratepayers will be horrified that it appears their rates are being used to promote alternative lifestyles.
This is just as concerning as it would be were Auckland Council funding conservative lobby group conferences such as for Family First.
Earlier this year the Rainbow Door Fund was established to provide grants for glbti people. We think it is questionable for Auckland Council to fund community groups based on the sexual preferences of their members. Conferences such as these should be funded by the interest groups themselves, not from money meant for roads and core services.
Given the spiralling levels of Auckland Council debt, the Council should be focused on value for money, not throwing funding at favoured groups.
A reader has sent this in to me. They note:
Just got a letter today that informs me that the Auckland Council will now inspect my pool fencing every three years to make sure it is still there and charge me for the privilege. Revenue generating at its best.
Original inspection received sign-off. It cost a fortune to put in a steel fence. Current charge for initial inspection is $75 – I am OK with that and foolishly thought that was the end of it.
Now it will be inspected every three years at a higher cost of $125 per inspection. For now.
My points are:
- Why follow up inspections? It is a metal fence set in concrete – we are hardly likely to lift it out of the ground
- Why more expensive since it is just (supposedly) reaffirming it is still there so technically they could look from the top of our drive and view it rather than inspect it
- Why can’t we just send in a photo showing it is still there – saves them a trip and us a lot of money
This is revenue generating pure and simple. It is a loose interpretation of Fencing of Swimming Pools Act 1987 section 10 (Every territorial authority shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that this Act is complied with within its district.)Exploitation of vague legislation seen as a revenue opportunity.
Since Len(it’s all about me) came in our rates have increased and services decreased as well as additional charges sneaking into the mix. This is snowballing and there seems to be no vehicle to challenge other than talk to a child at the call centre who sounded very sweet but “that picnic may be short of a sandwich” if you know what I mean. She struggled to know what to say and failed to find me anyone to talk to. Any suggestions for recourse?
The $75 initial charge does seem okay, but checking every three years the fence set in concrete is still there seems indeed just revenue generating – especially as they will cost more than the original check.
As widely covered by media over the weekend, the EY report into suspected misuse of Auckland Council resources by Len Brown is deeply concerning. In addition to the undeclared freebies (including undeclared gifts from Skycity - at the same time as publicly championing the convention centre deal) the report fails to deal with the concerns raised by the Taxpayers' Union in relation to the Mayor's trip to China in January 2013.
We still don't know for example:
Today we called on Mr Brown to pay back the money for both his personal expenses and undeclared gift listed in the EY report. Without the offer to pay the money back, we think the apology made by Mr Brown today to ratepayers is meaningless.
16 DECEMBER 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Taxpayers’ Union is calling on Auckland Mayor Len Brown to pay back the amount owed to Auckland ratepayers for his personal expenses and undeclared gifts listed in the EY report released on Friday.
“Len Brown’s apology is meaningless without an offer to pay the money back,” saysTaxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams.
“Mayor Brown hasn’t addressed whether he will be paying back the $2,898 EY calculated were the costs of personal calls borne by ratepayers. While the nearly $40,000 worth of gifts Mayor Brown received were mostly services in kind, his failure to disclose them puts a moral obligation on Mayor Brown to pay for them.”
"Mayor Brown is one of the few senior Labour Party figures to publicly back the SkyCity Convention Centre deal. That we now know he was secretly receiving gifts of SkyCity raises serious questions. At the very least he should pay the money back," concludes Williams.
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.
Entries close tomorrow for our competition for the householder who can provide evidence of the highest percentage increase in Auckland Council rates and user-charges. The prize is a lawnmower - just perfect for mowing those berms.
At the same time the Auckland Council is reducing services, a quick flick through the 50 or so entries we've have in so far, show many rates and user charge increases well over the 10% "cap".
Please scan and email your entries to email@example.com as any sent by post will no longer arrive in time.
Well it's taken a few weeks, but Auckland Council has finally responded to the Taxpayers' Union 'please explain' letter regarding a reported instruction by the Mayor's Chief of Staff, Phil Wilson, to refer all enquires about a secret January 2013 Mayoral trip to China to his office, and appears to be a misleading response to our enquiry about the trip under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987.
To recap, after a tip-off that there was inappropriate expenditure on a mayoral trip to China in early 2013, we asked the Council for the identify of the person who we were informed was responsible for the spending. It is our practise to use official information channels and verify any information we receive via our tip-line (or otherwise). We were told that the last trip was in 2012. April 2012.
No mention was made of the early 2013 trip.
As has been widely reported, we now know that the January 2013 did indeed happen.
A few weeks ago we spoke to an official at the Auckland Council who told us that the Council had misled us and implied that she was instructed that all requests from the Taxpayers’ Union relating to the January 2013 China trip, be directed to Mr Wilson.
But instead of explaining the inconsistency, Mr Wilson has today emailed a veiled threat that our statements are "being monitored and reviewed through legal channels".
We've been looking into the claims by Auckland Council politicians relating to promises of a 'living wage' for Auckland Council employees.
An Auckland Council internal report obtained by the Taxpayers’ Union raises questions about the potential for job losses and casts the $3.75m price-tag for the policy into doubt.
The Council’s report explains that the living wage is ‘not an effective, general tool for alleviating poverty’ and that ‘large proportions of minimum wage workers do not live in poor households.’
When you put aside the political rhetoric, the economic impact of the living wage policy will be disastrous for low-skilled Council workers, diversity and ratepayers according the Council’s own analysis.
If the Council’s aim is to reduce poverty, the report suggests that living wages for Council employees is not the way to do it. According to the report, workers aged 15 - 24, women and ethnic minorities are over-represented in the category of people not earning more than $18.40 per hour. Artificially inflating Council wages may see less of these groups gaining future employment with the Council as competition for these positions increase.
In addition to increased competition for Council positions, the report indicates the potential for job losses and shows that workers may see overtime slashed.
The living wage policy will not only burden Aucklanders with higher rates, it also threatens Council workers with the prospect of job losses. The true cost of the living wage policy may be much higher than the $3.75m quoted in the media. For example, the Council’s analysis only considers workers within a 10% wage differential. It has not factored in the potential for a domino effect of wage increases emanating from the introduction of the living wage.
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