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The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union, in collaboration with its sister group the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance, has today published the 2023 edition of the Ratepayers' Report at www.RatepayersReport.nz
The Ratepayers’ Report allows Kiwis to easily compare their local council’s performance and financial position for 2021/22 against others. The report provides transparency for ratepayers, with rate figures presented on a per-rating-unit basis for comparisons between district and regional councils. The Comparison Chart ranks councils by average residential and non-residential rates.
Taxpayers’ Union National Campaigns Manager, Callum Purves, said:
“The 2023 Ratepayers' Report showcases the inner workings of councils all over New Zealand. It provides an essential tool for ratepayers to evaluate their local council and hold decision makers accountable.
"This year's report is our most comprehensive yet with brand new data aimed at arming ratepayers with all the information they need to scrutinize the decisions and spending of their local council."
The Ratepayers’ Report is free and available to the public at www.RatepayersReport.nz.
> Residential rates: Rates continue to rise, with the average residential rate for district and city councils nationwide now at $2,781 – $171 more than just last year. Carterton District Council ranks highest for residential rates at $3,938.91 with Manawatū District Council a close second at $3,713.23. The lowest average residential rates in New Zealand comes from Buller District Council at $2,155.98.
> Debt: Auckland Council has the highest net debt as a percentage of rates income at 525% with a net debt per rating unit of $17,451. It also has the highest interest per rating unit at $673. Only 9 councils have net debt as a % of rates income at or below 0 (New Plymouth, Northland Regional, South Taranaki, Bay of Plenty Regional, Napier City, Wairoa, Kawerau, Taranaki Regional and Environment Southland.)
> Dismissals: There were a total of 18 dismissals due to poor performance across all councils in 2021/22. Christchurch City Council had the most with 8.
> Consultants and Contractors: Hamilton had the highest expenditure on consultants and contractors out of any council at $314,971,368 – almost 3 times more than Auckland Council. South Taranaki District Council spent the least at $155,184. There were a dozen councils that refused our request for the expenditure on consultants and contractors.
> Salaries: Auckland Council and its CCOs pay 3,742 staff salaries more than $100,000 – an increase of 740 from 2021/22. Greater Wellington Regional Council and its CCOs employees the highest percentage of staff at salaries over $100,000 (43.67%) - The lowest is Wairoa (7.93%).
> Fiscal safeguards: Only 2 councils (down from 7) met the full criteria for prudent Audit and Risk Committees – Dunedin and Kawerau.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of the Ratepayers’ Report?
> The 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 the Ratepayers' Report from figures obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act and cover the 2021/22 financial year.
> The data was sent to each individual authority to be review and error checked prior to public launch.
> Population and household data is taken from Stats NZ.
Where did the group finance figures come from?
> Group finance figures are taken from each Council's annual report and LGOIMA requests from councils. They include figures from the council as well as all subsidiary council-controlled organisations (CCOs).
Which councils are assessed in the Ratepayers' Report?
> Of New Zealand's 78 territorial authorities and regional councils, 73 are examined in the Ratepayers' Report. That includes all city, district, unitary and regional councils, with the exclusion of the Chatham Islands Council (due to concerns surrounding that Council's workload pressure and unique position), as well as those who did not respond to our requests.
Is this the first Ratepayers' Report?
> No. The Ratepayers' Report was first published in 2014 jointly by the Taxpayers' Union and Fairfax Media (now Stuff). The Taxpayers’ Union has since published updated versions in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. This is the eighth edition, but the first to analyse regional councils.
How are the councils grouped?
> Councils are grouped into 4 different categories (District, City, Unitary and Regional) according to definitions from Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ)
> City councils represent a population of more than 50,000 that is predominantly urban based. District councils represent a smaller, more widely dispersed population. This allows us to make comparisons between councils of similar nature.
How were the average rates 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 the Ratepayers' Report is available here.
> While we think this approach is useful and fair, the average residential and non-residential rate figure should be a guide only.
> 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 data to review.
Can the results of the 2023 report be compared to the 2022 edition?
> The methodology means that the per-rating unit figures can be compared with the 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 report, but not with the 2018 report which used a per-ratepayer figure (aside from the average rates metric which has remained consistent).
What are the potential limitations of the Ratepayers’ Report?
> Empty or undeveloped sections are counted as rating units. This means the average residential rates figure for a territory with a high proportion of undeveloped sections, such as Wairoa District Council, may appear relatively low while the actual level of rates levied on an average Wairoa homeowner is likely to be higher.
The Taxpayers’ Union has been provided a copy of a leaked report Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) commissioned. The report was prepared in response to work by the Taxpayers’ Union to improve transparency in local government. Earlier today Ratepayers’ Report – interactive local government league tables – launched at ratepayersreport.co.nz.
We've also been leaked confidential briefing papers for council CEOs. These appear to have been prepared by LGNZ's spin doctors as an aide for councils to avoid any criticism resulting from questions relating to Ratepayers' Report and other efforts by the Taxpayers' Union.
We approached LGNZ earlier in the year and sought its help to ensure New Zealanders got a fair picture of how their local council is doing. Instead, LGNZ went into defence mode and hired an accountancy firm to discredit the expert analyst we were using. They were not interested in ensuring ratepayers got an accurate picture, rather creating reasons why we shouldn’t be providing the public with the information.
Despite promising that the report would be made available to the Taxpayers’ Union, we’ve only seen it today because it was leaked to us. The report suggests that LGNZ is more interested in toeing the party line, rather than identifying the councils which are under-performing.
The report, by Grant Thornton, appears to have little basis for what they deem as ‘acceptable’ for the financial measures they apply to councils. They've not provided a league table, or a scoring system and even the data points on the graphs do not reference the councils they relate to.
It appears they’ve put in the data then picked the spot that shows that everyone is doing well.
The report makes soft criticisms of Kaipara District and Waitomo District Councils - but then defends them. It makes assertions that all under-performing councils are dealing with their issues. To us it demonstrates that LGNZ is a lobby group to protect local councils rather than a champion of best practise.
The Taxpayers’ Union, in collaboration with Fairfax Media, this morning launched "Ratepayers’ Report” hosted by Stuff.co.nz.
Ratepayers’ Report builds on the work of local government expert and financial analyst, Larry Mitchell and his work in previous years comparing New Zealand’s 67 territorial authorities. The data was pulled together by the Taxpayers' Union and supplied to Fairfax Media. Fairfax has had the data checked independently and supplied it to councils for viewing before its publication.
For the first time, New Zealanders now have an interactive online tool to compare their local council to those of the rest of the country. Go to Ratepayersreport.co.nz to compare your local council including average rates, debt per ratepayer and even CEO salaries.
Ratepayers’ Report compares, for the first time, average residential rates. The figure has been calculated using a methodology developed within the local government sector to compare average residential rates. Only Kaipara District Council was unwilling to provide the Taxpayers’ Union with the average residential rates information.
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