Cost recovery as a blood sport

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    By 2007, Auckland City – to which we had been joined nearly 20 years earlier – was taking $15 million in rates and direct revenues from Waiheke and we were feeling like a rather threadbare “jewel in the crown”.  

    I had made a carefully comprehensive Gulf News request under the Official Information Act and the concise response for all the figures over a four-year period showed that Waiheke rates alone had nearly doubled from $5.4m in 2002-3 to $10m four years later in 2007. 

    At the same time, other revenue sources from the island had risen from $2.5m to $4.7m.

    Planning and building revenues alone had netted the council well over $1.1m, the wharf tax $1.6m, the wharf’s then recently introduced car parking fees were more than $130,000 and parking infringements a further $250,000, making revenue at the wharf alone at more than $2m. 

    Such ready access to the figures was never repeated, despite a sequence of further and equally comprehensive Official Information requests. “Commercial sensitivity” over wharf taxes and a purported lack of local figures to compare with 2006-7’s million-dollar planning bonanza have denied meaningful comparisons.

    With cost recovery from island ratepayers a blood sport (as I said in my editorial at the time), the unlamented officials and Citizens and Ratepayers councillors of the soon-to-be-replaced Auckland City seemed to be on thin ice in their irritated insistence that we were freeloading on the city’s other ratepayers. 

    I’ve only glimpsed the annual rates figures for Waiheke a couple of times since then, but my own rates have more than doubled over those years and it’s a safe bet that Waiheke’s rates revenue now tops $25m.

    I am raking up all this old history, of course, because the city’s $31.8 billion “recovery budget”’ was to be approved this week and – whatever the mayor may say – hardly anyone on Waiheke does anything but snort at the promise of 3.5 percent rate rises, or five percent, or even 15 percent rates hike. 

    It’s an average and essentially meaningless. In reality, different property and business groups are picked off for swingeing rate-hikes targeted over time. As a small and uninfluential subset of city ratepayers, we have become inured to massive rate rises and specious justifications. 

    In any case, according to an analysis by veteran journalist Bernard Orsman, the current proposals will see the overall average increase in council costs for a typical Auckland household rise by 62 percent.

     Of course, if your leader is still wedded to neo liberalism – and one should not forget Mayor
    Goff’s early political career in the heady Rogernomics era – the “recovery budget” is going to be big on infrastructure and bustling through easy profits for subdivision land, regardless of whether the developer foots infrastructure costs or not. 

    Up until now, mostly not, actually.

    Meanwhile, the relatively modest costs of the city’s delivery of libraries, halls and parks with venerable local histories and community services are pinched off, along with staff.

    There is also a rather alarming possibility – on the usual specious grounds – that we might be entangled in the city-wide budget’s moves to have rural property moved onto urban rates, quite unjustifiably in areas with no swimming pools, poor roads and occasional footpaths. In Waiheke’s case, not even a subsidised ferry service.

    I’d feel better if, just once, Mr Goff had been seen to go to Wellington in an advocacy role to reduce the intolerable squeeze on housing and services posed by the extra 40,000 people a year who have poured into the city. Instead, he’s regularly cried poor, urging and shoving to have us all move over and make way, regardless of really quite henious consequences for Aucklanders.

    Meantime, in following up the rates revenues for Waiheke, I find that looking up Waiheke rates on the website takes me to the annual report to June 2020 which shows that the Waiheke Local Board area has $5.3m in operating funding which includes staff and supplier payments.

    A woeful capital expenditure of $1.8m shows as an increase in debt and much of it was unspent, since all non-essential projects were canned by the pandemic, which occurred half-way through the council’s financial year to June.

    No subsidies and grants, no development and financial contributions, no lump sum contributions and no other dedicated capital funding. “Fees and charges” shows up as $33,000 so presumably it does not include planning revenues or 2007’s $250,000-plus in parking fees and fines.

    I am left with our untrammeled contribution to the giant maw which is the city about $18m. • Liz Waters

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