Stop Siphoning Rural Rates!

‘Time to stop siphoning rural ratepayers’ – NBR article August 2017

Rural ratepayers are being robbed blind by the Auckland super city, claims Rodney councillor Greg Sayers.

He says a whopping 72% of Auckland’s geographical area is rural. “Rural wards, including Franklin and Rodney, are crucial to the survival of Auckland by providing its dairy and other food supplies. Yet sadly, the rural community is the most financially discriminated against in all of Auckland.

“It is calculated exploitation and a secret nobody ever talks about.”

Mr Sayers says while Auckland Council continues to overspend and to waste money, its food producing ratepayers are being systematically siphoned to compensate.

“For example, in the north, Rodney makes up 46% of the land mass of Auckland. Its ratepayers pay $76 million in rates, of which $38 million a year is paid by the dutiful rural landowners. Then there are development contributions collected by the council on top of this as Rodney’s townships are targeted for growth.

“Of the rural $38 million cash paid only $1.2 million is invested back, via the council’s treasury, to build the primary asset required, which is sealed roads.”

According to Mr Sayers, it is hardly a comparable capital rate of return to that enjoyed by the CBD, where he says the treasury leverages every $1 into $2.70 through borrowings.(Turns $1.2m cash into $3.3m borrowings for road sealing). “The pendulum has swung too far and a gross imbalance has appeared.”

Rural ratepayers miss out:
Rural ratepayers don’t get any of the standard council benefits such as footpaths, public transport services, pools, leisure centres, art centres, street lighting, he says, “but they still faithfully write out their rates cheques.”

He says the only significant rural council infrastructure supplied is roading, most of which is unsealed and is unsafe according to both the World Health Organisation and the Crown’s own New Zealand Transport Agency.

Mr Sayers says rural roads have become both a safety and a health issue, because being unsealed, the dust particles generated when driving on them get breathed in and have been classified as a probable carcinogen.

Animals are equally affected and crops are being contaminated. These health findings have been urgently submitted to all Auckland district health boards.

“It is naive to think traffic growth is exclusive to Auckland city. The Unitary Plan allows countryside living sections to be subdivided as of right and, while Auckland’s rural people are experts in negotiating these dangerous roads, the same cannot be said for tourists, new residents and day visitors
Not all rural roads need sealing – only one-third of Auckland’s unsealed roads require sealing, he says.

Rural ratepayers are more than happy to pay their fair share toward regional facilities but the council needs to stop its unjust behaviour and return some rates back for building safe country roads, including basic footpaths outside the schools.

Targeted rate:
Mr Sayers says Mayor Phil Goff tells him there is no way Auckland’s roads will be sealed unless rural ratepayers pay more through an additional targeted rate.

Mr Goff tells NBR Auckland Transport is trying progressively to expand the roads within the Auckland region that are sealed. “However, financial constraints mean that process will take some time.”

He says he understands Mr Sayers was told by deputy mayor Bill Cashmore, who represents the large rural ward of Franklin, the problem was tackled there before amalgamation by using a targeted rate to seal nearly all of the significant roads in the district.

In the past few days, the Rodney Local Board has revealed the feedback to its draft plan which includes a transport targeted rate – more than 53% of ratepayers are lined up behind the proposal.

If it kicks in, the targeted rate will cost ratepayers between $114-200 a year and replace the council’s transport levy which expires in June next year. It will be used for transport issues including the sealing of shingle roads.

However, Mr Sayers says many of Auckland’s local communities and local boards are becoming increasingly disenfranchised, with so much money being borrowed and deflected into regional projects at the expense of important local projects.

“The mayor’s mentality of borrow, spend and tax ratepayers again is sending Auckland Council broke. “It’s now at a crisis point whereby the government has had to step in with special purpose borrowing vehicles to protect Auckland Council from blowing its credit rating.

“Rather than asking ratepayers to pay twice for core services, the council should instead be cutting waste, stopping its overspending and redirecting its spending back to providing public core services.

“We need a council that provides excellent essential services like dealing with the ‘need to haves’ rather than the ‘nice to haves.’

“I am often told my constituents ‘chose to live in the country’ as if somehow not choosing to live in the CBD makes them less worthy. I see no reason why they should not receive a fair return on their rates investment as do their urban counterparts.”