2 June 2021. By Cr Greg Sayers, Councillor for Rodney.
Auckland’s Councillors had to decide last week whether to support the Mayors proposal to increase rates by an average of 5%, or alternatively increase by 3.5%.
There was also an additional 11% rate increase proposed on top of the 5% increase, which affected Kumeu/Huapai, Dairy Flat and Riverhead ratepayers (living inside the Urban Rural Boundary), which is an average rate of over 16%.
Importantly, the whole process included asking Aucklanders which option they supported.
Council provided written consultation material, online information sessions, face-to-face public meetings, and social media videos to explain the different impacts between a 5% and a 3.5 %average rates increase, as well as information about the localized 16% increase which affects around 7,000 ratepayers.
Overwhelmingly, very well-informed Aucklanders rejected the Mayor’s budget.
Public feedback said there was a need to find savings, and internal cost reductions rather than just efficiency gains. Many people commented about the financial hardship they were under and having to make cost reductions, why wasn’t the Council doing the same?
True cost reductions will be impossible without Council defining what its core business is. I will continue to push to ensure this happens.
Rejection of the 5% increase was even more pronounced from Rodney’s residents with a massive 70% of people not supporting the Mayoral proposal.
Most people’s feedback explained they supported the 3.5% increase with many wanting even lower rate increases. Over 90 percent of local residents rejected the notion of an additional 16% increase for Kumeu/Huapai, Dairy Flat and Riverhead.
Personally I have supported all of the advocacy points of the Rodney Local Board. However, I did not support their advocacy to increase the rates by more the 5% and their suggestion was an 8 percent rates increase instead!
Feedback on the Mayor’s proposal from Rodney’s residents included wanting Council to get back to core business, stopping wastage and overspending, a reduction in regulations and compliance costs, and a reduction in senior executive salaries.
Rodneys ratepayers were disapproving of Council planning to spend money than ever before, but while Rodney was being marginalised from that spending.
Ratepayers did not think Kumeu/Huapai, Dairy Flat and Riverhead had comparable services to urban Auckland justifying a total average rates increase of 16%, and for some ratepayer’s this could be up to a 27% rates increase.
This has proven inconvenient for the Mayor, forcing him to promote a smaller Colmar Brunton poll, ahead of the official public feedback results, as the new source of truth. This poll cost ratepayers $110,000 returning a favourable result of 9% more people supporting his budget than rejecting it.
I believe the poll was fundamentally flawed because it heavily promoted the 5% option, and it failed to mention the cumulative effect of 7 % water rate increases, or the regional fuel tax, or the Rodney Local Board additional transport tax, or the additional 16% rates increase for some currently rated rural areas – all of which was outlined in the Council’s official consultation documentation which better informed the public than the information the poll gave.
Regardless, the people have spoken and have sent a very clear message. They want their elected Super City representatives to uphold their democratic wishes, however, I was doubtful that would happen.
Although the pros and cons around the rate increase options were clearly laid out in Council’s comprehensive consultation documents, many councillors and Local Board members had signalled they were going to support the Mayor’s proposal regardless of public opinion. A very sad state of affairs indeed.
Increasing rates is an easy fix for Council. Digging deep and making cuts back to core business, as most businesses have to do in hard times, requires tougher calls to be made.
As a Councillor I am refused a full breakdown of the amount of money being spent back into Rodney, or into each of the other Wards across Auckland. This makes it impossible for myself, and my other likeminded colleagues, to effectively advance alternative budgets to find a middle ground more acceptable to Aucklanders.
However, it was with a clear sense of duty and surety that I represented the people of Rodney when the rate increase decisions was be made – I voted against the 5% rates increase and the 16% rates option as well.
Unfortunately, the 5% rates increase got voted through 5 votes to 15. The 16% rates increase option also got voted through with only 7 votes opposing it.
A feeling that came through in the public feedback was a continued lack of trust in the Council. Well, maybe taxing by stealth and riding rough-shot over the people paying the politicians wages is the exact conduct the public don’t trust.
My prediction is in future years the Council will be seeking from you even greater rate increases because of its increasing spending, spiralling debt and failure to peel back to core services.