It’s official. Waiheke is profoundly dissatisfied with its relationship with the Auckland supercity to which it was a bartered bride in the 1980s and whose fate under Rodney Hide’s monolithic 2010 supercity successor Auckland Council has not been a happy one.
The conclusion is laid out in the results of a survey of Waiheke residents, released this week and undertaken to provide measures for monitoring a three-year pilot scheme to devolve more power from the council to Waiheke’s local board.
As a long-time professional asker of definitive questions, I salute the authors for the quality of the questionnaire that measured the opinions of 447 island residents and provided – if you are interested in such things – a pretty comprehensive snapshot of an informed community frustrated to boiling point by almost complete hubris.
Satisfaction with both Auckland Council and AT as its largest CCO is down to single digits; the local board faring better – 50 percent of respondents said the board listened to the community – but almost 88 percent said it did not have sufficient power.
Of those surveyed, nearly 90 percent said they did not trust Auckland Transport to make the right decisions for the Waiheke community and many called for an overhaul of an ‘imperialist’ culture and better communication, particularly in its listening.
There’s a lot to be transformed here although, among 11,000 council employees, there will be plenty who are pretty invested in the way things are.
However, the good news is that there is a will to sample a more inclusive and responsive model, including from inside the council itself.
It also looks as if there will be plenty of other takers for a governance overhaul that puts at least a working amount of power back in the hands of citizens most nearly affected and some improvement to oversight of local issues and performances.
This week, Councillor Mike Lee copied in other elected representatives round the city when he sent an open letter to Auckland Council’s chief executive officer Stephen Town after our story in late July about the search warrant and raid on the home of former Waiheke local board chairman Paul Walden.
Their responses have been about evenly divided between incredulity and an urgent need to share about similar incidents in their own relationships with the supercity. Some include legal threats and equally outrageous character damage to elected board members.
In parallel, there has also been ample evidence that the city, and its mayoralty, is in an almost incomprehensible grab for money.
New council valuations late last year suggested that overall, the value of Waiheke’s properties went up 66 percent, compared with 49 percent in the overall city, many by random millions of dollars.
That’s nice if you’re a cash-strapped city borrowing money but is AC really cash strapped? It collects $4.1 billion annually.
Panuku, the council’s property arm, just told its Waiheke constituents it had to get every last scrap of revenue from the Matiatia wharf zone, a nonsense if you consider council’s successive purchases of prime real estate left entire inner city tower blocks unoccupied. The feisty among us will remember its Greys Avenue seat of power that languished empty for yonks while we got used to the sight of destitution in city doorways.
Trams along Dominion Road with investor profits guaranteed by ratepayers sound like just another snout in the trough, while Mr Lee, who is the Waitemata and Gulf Islands ward councillor, is now questioning yet another unwholesome model by which Auckland Council – current debt $8.1 billion – can extract capital from its citizens.
This time, it’s a ‘toilet tax’ to pay for the planned ‘Central Interceptor’, a pipeline tunnelled 13 km from Western Springs to the Mangere Wastewater Treatment Plant to reduce overflows from Auckland’s continuing population growth.
Overdue? Of course. And council CCO Watercare says it can fund the project itself, and cheaper.
However, Treasury documents show that the city has been proposing a new financial model, this time a ‘special purpose vehicle’ that would keep further debt off council’s books. Underwritten by taxpayers, this uncharming financial sleight of hand entity (endowed with a manager, consultants and directors) would borrow the requisite $1.2 billion and be empowered to send ratepayers bills to repay the principal and interest.
Meanwhile, we are trying to stare down fuel taxes, sweeping bed taxes (which have left one modest Waiheke operation facing a rates rise from $4000 to $13,000) and rafts of ‘targeted rates’ if we want to have anything done, and sometimes even if we don’t.
It must be time to hit the reset button • Liz Waters