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Despite the national health and financial emergency, most councils are still planning to hike rates - some up to nine or ten percent. Louis interviews Hutt City Councillor Chris Milne & Christchurch City Councillor Sam MacDonald on their response to our campaign calling for a nationwide rates freeze and ways councils can save money.
You can support our campaign calling for a naitonwide rates freeze at www.ratesfreeze.nz. The dashboard referred to in the podcast is available at www.taxpayers.org.nz/rates_dashboard
You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and all good podcast apps.
This morning's DominionPost covers our research to identify New Zealand’s longest-serving local-body politicians.
New Zealand's longest-serving councillor is on track to notch up half a century in public office – provided voters give him the tick once again this year.
Grey District Council deputy mayor Doug Truman, 76, was first elected to a local authority in 1968, and plans to run for another three-year term in October's local body elections.
His 48 years in office to date make him by far the country's longest-serving councillor, according to information compiled by the Taxpayers' Union.
We are quite surprised by the variations in these figures. For example, Doug Truman, who sits on the Grey District Council, has served as an elected official for 48 years whereas in the neighbouring Westland District Council, the longest serving Councillor has served for only 7 years.
Whilst we all recognise the need for organisations to have long-standing personnel with institutional knowledge, we think these figures suggest that it is timely to look at implementing term limits at local councils.
There are obviously huge advantages, in name recognition for example, in being an incumbent at local body elections. This means it can be hard for fresh blood to get on a council, even if they are better qualified than an incumbent. We think the Local Government Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga should consider whether term limits would improve local government decision making.
If you’ve been on a council for 6 terms – 18 years – and you haven’t yet achieved what you set out to, it seems unlikely that you will do it by staying on Council for another 18 years.
While no one would criticise Mr Truman for his 48 years of service, we can't help but note that when he was first elected to a council in 1968, man hadn't yet landed on the moon.
Name of councillor(s)
|Ashburton District Council||Rod Beavan||21|
|Auckland Council||Penny Hulse||24|
|Bay of Plenty Regional Council||John Cronin||18|
|Buller District Council||Graeme Neylon||24|
|Central Hawke's Bay District Council||Mark Williams||16|
|Central Otago District Council||Tony Lepper||27|
|Christchurch City Council||Vicki Buck||26|
|Clutha District Council||Crs Cadogan, Anderson, Cochrane, Vollweiler||15|
|Dunedin City Council||John Bezett||30|
|Far North District Council||Ann Court||12|
|Gisborne District Council||Crs Foon, Burdett, Bauld, Davidson||18|
|Gore District Council||Cliff Bolger||18|
|Greater Wellington Regional Council||Chris Laidlaw and Sandra Greig||18|
|Grey District Council||Doug Truman||48|
|Hastings District Council||Cynthia Bowers and Lawrence Yule||21|
|Hauraki District Council||John Tregidga||33|
|Hawke's Bay Regional Council||Christine Helen Scott||15|
|Horizons Regional Council||Lindsay Burnell||27|
|Horowhenua District Council||Brendan Duffy||18|
|Hurunui District Council||Winton Dalley, Vince Daley||12|
|Hutt City Council||Cr Cousins||33|
|Invercargill City Council||Neil Boniface||36|
|Kaikoura District Council||John Diver||18|
|Kapiti Coast District Council||Diane Ammundsen||30|
|Kawerau District Council||Malcolm Campbell||21|
|Mackenzie District Council||Evan Williams||12|
|Manawatu District Council||Barbara Cameron||12|
|Marlborough District Council||Graeme Barsanti||27|
|Masterton District Council||Chris Peterson||21|
|Matamata-Piako District Council||Robert McGrail||19|
|Napier City Council||Mark Herbert||18|
|Nelson City Council||Paul Matheson||21|
|New Plymouth District Council||Heather Dodunski||24|
|Northland Regional Council||Craig Brown||15|
|Opotiki District Council||John Forbes||15|
|Otago Regional Council||Louise Croot||27|
|Otorohanga District Council||Deborah Pilkington||11|
|Palmerston North City Council||Jim Jefferies||18|
|Porirua City Council||John Burke||30|
|Queenstown Lakes District Council||Lyal Cocks||12|
|Rangitikei District Council||Lynne Sheridan||15|
|Ruapehu District Council||Graeme Cosford||30|
|Selwyn District Council||Malcolm Lyall||24|
|South Taranaki District Council||Ross Dunlop||30|
|South Waikato District Council||Neil Sinclair||26|
|South Wairarapa District Council||Vivien Napier||21|
|Southland District Council||Brian Dillon||18|
|Stratford District Council||Robin Vickers and Roger Hignett||24|
|Taranaki Regional Council||David Lean||27|
|Tararua District Council||Crs W H Keltie and D A Roberts||15|
|Tasman District Council||Tim King, Trevor Norriss||18|
|Taupo District Council||Barry Hickling||12|
|Tauranga City Council||Stuart Crosby||30|
|Thames-Coromandel District Council||Glenn Leach||12|
|Timaru District Council||Richard Lyon||21|
|Upper Hutt City Council||John Gwilliam||12|
|Waikato District Council||Rob Maguire and Graeme Tait||27|
|Waikato Regional Council||Lois Livingston||21|
|Waimakariri District Council||David Ayers||30|
|Waimate District Council||Peter McIlraith||12|
|Waipa District Council||Grahame Webber and Bruce Thomas||15|
|Wairoa District Council||Denise Eaglesome||12|
|Waitaki District Council||Hopkins and Garvan||9|
|Wellington City Council||Helene Richie||30|
|West Coast Regional Council||Peter Ewen||12|
|Westland District Council||James Howard Butzbach||7|
|Whakatane District Council||Russell Orr||12|
|Whanganui District Council||Sue Westwood||31|
|Whangarei District Council||Phil Halse||23|
Six councils: Carterton District Council; Hamilton City Council; Rotorua District Council; Southland Regional Council; Waitomo District Council; and Western Bay of Plenty District Council, refused to provide the information.
Coverage of the Taxpayers' Union response to LGNZ's efforts to impose new council taxes such as local fuel, sales and even income taxes.
Taxpayers' Union fuming over council plan (3 News, 2 February 2015)
A ratepayer-funded plan which suggests imposing more taxes to raise cash for councils has the Taxpayers' Union fuming.
Rates are the primary source of income for local authorities, but in a discussion paper released today, Local Government New Zealand suggests other funding sources.
The report lists imposing road tolls or bringing in taxes on income, certain types of expenditure, fuel, or certain transactions as options.
But Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams says the average rates bill has doubled over the last two decades, and the paper is only about how to tax more.
"Instead of focusing on the quality of councils' spending decisions, this campaign is using ratepayer money on propaganda promoting new taxes," he said.
"Nowhere in the discussion paper do we see a disciplined analysis of why local government spending is out of control." [...]
Council Digesting Report (Rotorua Review, 4 February 2015)
ROTORUA Lakes Council (RLC) won’t rule out a raft of possible new taxes that have been outlined as options in Local Government New Zealand’s (LGNZ) funding review discussion document.
LGNZ, a lobby group made up of 78 councils, including RLC, has issued the document which outlines options for addressing shortfalls in local government funding.
The options, which it says would sit alongside rates, include a local income tax, local expenditure tax, regional fuel taxes, transaction taxes and what it calls ‘‘selective taxes’’. RLC chief executive Geoff Williams said the document was intended to stimulate a discussion about possible funding opportunities and constraints in New Zealand, and declined to rule anything out.
Unsurprisingly, Yule’s claim that the discussion paper was not meant to pre- empt an overall increase in taxes was met with some scepticism by lobby group The Taxpayers’ Union.
‘‘Mr Yule is telling the public that the goal isn’t to increase the overall tax burden, but he released a report, not on ways to save money, but on ways to tax more,’’ said Taxpayers’ Union executive director Jordan Williams.
‘‘New Zealand’s average rates bill has doubled in the last 20 years, tracking at twice the rate of inflation. Instead of focusing on the quality of councils’ spending decisions, this campaign is using ratepayer money on propaganda promoting new taxes. Nowhere in the discussion paper do we see a disciplined analysis of why local government spending is out of control.’’ The LGNZ funding review document is available at lgnz.co.nz and submissions are open until March 27.
Also: Council funding reform plea shot down (NZ Herald, 3 February 2015)
Local Government New Zealand, is spending considerable ratepayer money on a campaign promoting local income taxes, regional fuel taxes and regional GST-style regimes to increase the tax burden of local councils. LGNZ today launched a review document on various options for new taxes. You can download the paper here.
This diagram illiterates well the growth of local government (source):
New Zealand’s average rates bill has doubled in the last 20 years, tracking at twice the rate of inflation.
Instead of focusing on the quality of councils' spending decisions, LGNZ appear to be using ratepayer money on studies and propaganda promoting new taxes. We have long been concerned that LGNZ too often represents the interests of councils, rather than those paying the councils' bills! Nowhere in the discussion paper for example, do we see a disciplined analysis of why local government spending is out of control.
We've also been alerted to emails where LGNZ spin doctors are sending draft opinion pieces to local mayors so that they can 'leverage local media' and promote these new taxes.
In the LGNZ press release, the lobby group's President, Laurence Yule, says that:
“The goal is not to increase the overall tax burden for New Zealand, but rather to determine whether a different mix of funding options for local government might deliver better outcomes for the country.”
Mr Yule is telling the public that the goal isn’t to increase the overall tax burden while at the same time releasing a report that isn't on ways to save money, but on ways to tax more.
Former North Shore City Councillor, North Shore City Council David Thornton writes:
LGNZ Review is about more money for more spending
Few ratepayers object to the principal that all citizens should contribute to the cost of running their communities, and that those contributions should be within the ratepayers’ ability to pay.
The Local Government New Zealand funding review revisits many of the issues raised in the Independent Rates Review of 2007 and repeats some of the same conclusions reached then.
The difference between the two reports is that the 2007 review was looking for alternatives to rates, while this new report is aimed at raising new funds in addition to rates.
In other words LGNZ, on behalf of all councils, wants to spend more, and needs more money to feed those expansive ambitions.
We agree. The Taxpayers' Union isn't against new taxes per say. Our view is that new taxes should replace old ones (i.e. an equal decrease to compensate). In the case of local government though, LGNZ's efforts are so the local government spending binge can continue...
In the last year there has been a lot of discussion regarding efforts by Auckland Council to fund its yawning funding gap, a gap that mostly relates to its transportation (roading) budgets. New tolls for existing motorways are a possibility, as well as distorying the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust so that Auckland Council (instead of the intendand benificiares) get the annual payout.
Feedback included one commentator who “shouted” (in bold caps) … “Hang On! lets not try to fill any funding gap before we first address Auckland Council’s wasteful and unaffordable expenditures which are so clearly out of control!” … the Elephant!
Fair point … so here, to start this particular ball rolling, are some simple financial facts concerned with Auckland’s expenditures.
The 2012- 2022 long term plan forecast Council group expenditures to increase by 24% over the next five years, although this year’s 2014 actual result is slightly less (by 3%) than that forecast.
Recent publicity surrounds the funding deficit issues referred to already, that is, the search for increased income and other sources to meet budgeted funding totals. But there is something important missing from this picture. Nowhere in the debate surrounding the financial management of Auckland Council is there to be found any call for or actions to address the funding shortfall by making budget savings derived from expenditure reductions.
How different this is from individual budget holders of our family’s expenditures or of firms in the private sector. Any private sector firm faced with a similar funding dilemma to that of the Council would not hesitate in wielding the axe to its expenditures. They would act promptly to lower their overheads, then most likely to reduce payroll, while all the while seeking more efficient and economical ways to produce their goods and services. So why is our Council somehow exempt from employing these sensible strategies?
It appears that the Council’s coercive powers give them an assured (taxation) basis for their revenues and that effectively removes any incentive or compulsion for their making cost savings.
This is the reason Councils usually just run “cost plus” budgets year after year. A small number, usually those reacting to pressures of their ratepayers, from time to time trim their costs. Currently though New Zealand Councils by and large show little interest in making cost savings as tables of recent year’s inexorable rates increases attest.
An analysis of alternative solutions, designed to modify Auckland Council budget strategies fall into two broad areas.
The first is to look at the Auckland Council culture and practices that have allowed this situation to develop.
The second addresses a range of specific tactics that can make inroads (savings) to meet balanced budget objectives..
So how did this expensive, unaffordable approach to Auckland Council financial management arise? There is no need to itemise these reasons as recent publicity has already done so. One glaring example of a lack of cost control however is the Council payroll. With over 1,100 (roughly 15% by number) of all Council employees drawing over $100,000 salary per annum this of itself is sufficient evidence of poor cost management for most ratepayers when their average incomes are in the mid-sixties.
In the interests of brevity we now merely list some of the missteps that have lead to the creation of our under-performing, expensive monster of a Super Council:
The result of these circumstances are well understood by Auckland ratepayers - just look at their rates bills and see the nearly daily headlines of the latest examples of Council waste and extravagance. Lack of control of Council expenditures has lead to unaffordable rates and their projected high percentage annual increases.
Only a total turnaround of leadership and of Council culture plus effective cost savings tactics can address these issues. Electors, as ratepayers seeking better value for their money have their opportunity next year to (albeit somewhat indirectly) set affordable cost-effective budgets by electing a Council with these as their principal agenda.
Larry Mitchell is a local government financial analysist. The views are his own and do not necessary reflect those of the Taxpayers’ Union. Larry can be contacted vai [email protected].
On Sunday we suggested that New Zealanders should be given the ability to recall their representatives after the latest of a series of scandals involving Auckland Mayor Len Brown was revealed. The NZ Herald picked up our suggestion:
'Secret room' spending shows need for recall elections
A lobby group says revelations Auckland Council spent $30,000 on "secret rooms" for Len Brown show New Zealand needs recall elections to dismiss politicians before their terms expire.
The Council spent the money building a private bathroom and dressing room hidden behind a bookcase in the Auckland mayor's new office, the Herald on Sunday reported.
The Taxpayers' Union today said the Government should give local communities the ability to petition for recall elections.
"Councillors have already censured Len Brown for misusing funds but clearly the line in the sand is being ignored," said Jordan Williams, Taxpayers' Union executive director.
"A recall option would enable ratepayers to petition for a vote to fire a shameless [politician] who lacks any respect for those who pay the bills." Read more.
Voter recall options are gaining popularity overseas and it's time New Zealand had the conversation. Though often associated with the United States, where they have a long history and are used at both the state and local leve, recall mechanisms also exist in British Columbia, several Swiss cantons, the Philippines and Venezuela.
Recently the UK Government introduced the Recall of MPs Bill to the House of Commons on 11 September 2014, after pledging to the public to go so upon election in 2010. Many UK MPs, led by backbencher Zac Goldsmith, think the Government’s proposed threshold of recall only after a committee of MPs has found the representative to have been engaged in “serious wrongdoing” is too high.
Based on the swamp of emails we've been getting, many Auckland's think the threshold to censure a Mayor seems to be pretty high too!
We think that it's time the Government gave ratepayers a voice between elections. A recall option would enable ratepayers to petition for a vote to fire a shameless politicians who lacks any respect for those who pay the bills. New Zealanders need a mechanism to replace elected representatives if they fail to perform or bring their office into serious disrepute.
As Zac Goldsmith recently said:
“What is at stake is a matter of principle – do we trust out voters to hold us to account or not?”
It’s time to have the recall conversation.
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.
So what will this new position entail?
“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.
Auckland Ratepayers “Wake Up” at last
Bernard Orsman's analysis last week of Auckland Council's financial trouble got right to the heart of the matter. The section headed "Hey Big Spender you’re in a deep financial hole" accurately nails the central issue facing Auckland’s overtaxed ratepayers. With a new 2015-2025 long term plan gearing up, Auckland Council's control of its expenditure long based on borrow and spend, at long last will now be put under the microscope.
The best place to start with the analysis is the new purposes of local government post the 2012 changes to the Local Government Act. Section 10 (requiring "cost- effective infrastructure expenditure") and section 11 (which lists the "core" activities) suggests that the Council is now staying well outside the typical activities we associate with councils.
Of course, Auckland Council has been quick to run to Wellington for funding of its plans, but I think Central Government should withhold any consideration of tolls, regional sales taxes (or other alternatives) until Auckland Council can produce solid evidence of its adoption of a principled "cost effective" "core" services-based budget. At present it is anything but.
In his regular blog this week, Joel Cayford, Reflections on Auckland Planning makes some telling and useful points with his advice directed straight at Auckland Councillors. These include the suggestion that in place of existing assumptions - that ratepayers should foot the bill for the city’s growth-infrastructure, affordability to ratepayers must become the central issue:
“Under the Council's present policy settings, ratepayers can't afford the Auckland Plan, and it's not equitable to require ratepayers to subsidise Auckland's economic growth. It's not that urban growth is a bad thing ... it becomes a bad thing, an unaffordable thing for existing ratepayers ... that does not justify overloading existing Auckland ratepayers with growth infrastructure costs”
Other worthwhile suggestions he makes for Auckland Councillors to consider ... “while they are at it’ are all matters that echo sentiments true of many other New Zealand Councils. These include:
Joel concludes by taking a swing at the vexed Housing Affordability conundrum, not merely an Auckland issue. He presents it in this way:
My biggest policy concern with the growth pathway Auckland is headed down is the assumption that existing ratepayers will subsidise costs of growth infrastructure needed to accommodate new ratepayers ..., then the true costs of new accommodation will not be paid by those buying into that part of Auckland's property market. This inbuilt subsidy is already causing property market failure. The craziness of Auckland's property market is partly driven by Auckland Council growth policies.
Let’s hope that this time, Auckland Councillors do two things:
First: They must be persuaded of the importance of achieving what was hoped when the former Auckland councils were amalgamated in the first place. It was supposed to be driven by excellent performance management and reporting, high standards of accountability and value for money and
Secondly: They should take up the enlightened constructive suggestions of Joel and other commentators - in the interests of their long-suffering ratepayers.
We've received confidential minutes and a briefing via the tip-line relating to CentrePort’s problematic BNZ building which suggests the building will not be fully reoccupied until the end of October.
What should be one of Wellington’s most modern and safest buildings looks to be still plagued with problems eleven months after the Seddon earthquake.
We understand that CentrePort is having to fork out more ratepayer money on seismic restraints on the risers and that there are now new problems with windows popping out in Pier 3.
If ever you needed an argument as to why ratepayers should not be underwriting property development, the BNZ fiasco is it.
Greater Wellington needs to abandon its policy of secrecy and explain how much these problems at the BNZ building are costing ratepayers. Latest estimates are in the tens of millions.
In May the Taxpayers’ Union revealed that the Greater Wellington Regional Council guarantees CentrePort’s debt, including borrowings related to property development.
The Taxpayers’ Union has today published a new report by Jono Brown that suggest ways local councils can save money and reduce the rates burden on New Zealanders. Rate Saver Report: 101 Ways to Save Money in Local Government is a guide for local authorities on how they can cut waste, save money, reduce bureaucracy and ultimately lower rates. The report adopts many suggestions made by the country’s mayors, and is based on similar reports published in the United Kingdom.
Too often we hear unimaginative councillors insisting that they have no choice but to increase the rates burden. Before they even consider increasing rates they should consider all of the suggestions in this report. In future, any council claiming that raising rates is the only option had better be able to prove that they have implemented or at least considered implementing every single idea we are putting before them today. If not, they won’t be able to look their residents in the eye and insist that they have exhausted the possibilities for saving money.
Ray Wallace, Mayor of Lower Hutt, says in a foreword to the report:
"I urge local government people to take these suggestions as a challenge. If you do not like them, come up with some better ones."
Tim Shadbolt, Mayor of Invercargill City, says in a foreword to the report:
"Having been a mayor for 28 years and finally achieving a rate increase of less than 1%, I’ve learnt to face many challenges and this publication is certainly challenging. Some of the ideas are obviously worthy of discussion and others are clearly designed to provoke discussion."
Highlights of how councils can save money:
Other notable suggestions include:
The Taxpayers’ Union would like to thank the many Mayors across the country who responded to the Union's invitation to submit ideas and examples of their council saving ratepayers’ money.
Joining the Taxpayers' Union costs only $25 and entitles you to attend our annual conference, AGM and other events.
With your support we can make the Taxpayers' Union a strong voice exposing waste and standing up for Kiwi taxpayers.
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