The Ross Report – May 2005
The Ross Report – May 2005
Cr Jami-Lee Ross – Manukau City Councillor
The Cracks Are Starting To Show:
In April 2000 an unusual step was taken in sacking the Rodney District Council when the Minister of Local Government had to step in to resolve deep disruptive conflicts between competing factions on the council. The internal disparity in Rodney was so bad that the best interests of residents and ratepayers were not being catered for and many people believe that the Manukau City Council is beginning to head down that same track. The cracks in the facade are starting to show and it won’t be long before those cracks are irreparable.
The May meeting of the Strategic Directions Committee highlighted the significant split on the Council when it came to debating the Council’s new $500,000 propaganda newsletter. Councillor Dick Quax had done some research into the issue and uncovered an unethical connection between the Mayor’s recent election campaign and the proposed publisher of the newsletter.
Astoundingly, at the meeting, an attempt was made by the committee chairman to censor Cr Quax before he even began speaking, due to the embarrassing nature of the information. Quax had to battle for around 30 minutes for his democratic right to free speech, and even when he was allowed to speak, he was consistently interrupted by a visibly shaken Mayor.
Dick Quax presented the information he had uncovered to the committee in order to bring some transparency to the newsletter dispute. Council officers the month before had chosen not to inform Councillors of the dubious connection with Curtis, despite recommending that the newsletter not be subject to a competitive tender process. The allegations were met with schoolyard bully tactics by the mayor who could only resort to abusive name calling: “You’ll hear from me, you rat bag. . . I've seen enough of you to last me a lifetime, Quax, and read enough about you". Later in the meeting he also told Councillor David Collings to shut up and that he was a silly man.
One would think that after 21 years of civic domination Barry Curtis might be able to handle a bit of flak heading his way. His explosive outbursts, however, prove that is certainly not the case and that his tough exterior may be starting to wear very thin. The 2004 local body elections saw the Mayor returned with only 26.6% of the popular vote and a slashed majority of 566 votes.
Support in the city is quickly running dry and desperation is setting in. Curtis still commands the votes of the necessary Council followers, but whether or not the Council will survive full term should be something serious for them to consider. If matters get any worse in Manukau City the cushy ratepayer funded perks could be all over in an instant.
Another Building Issue Coverup:
In March the Ross Report covered the issue of a botched decision to grant resource consent to a high rise apartment building in 16 Fencible Drive, Howick. The proposed building was to be 18m high, twice the allowable limit at the time, and the Council received an alarming critique from the environment court for the way the consent application was handled. (See item #2: http://www.jami-leeross.com/rossreport_mar05.htm )
Earlier this month I revealed that it had cost the ratepayers of Manukau City more than $70,000 to defend the bad decision the Council Commissioners had made. Had they not made such a bad decision and followed Council policies from the start, the $70,000 would never have needed to be spent.
The Howick Ratepayers and Residents Association has been requesting an independent inquiry into the decision for several months now, and the Howick Community Board has also requested that an independent inquiry be conducted. Their requests have been met with staunch opposition from both the Council’s Environment and Urban Design (EUD) Committee and the Council officers who manage that department. The simple fact is that Howick does not need or want high rise buildings and the community has the right to know why they are being granted resource consent approval.
In March the EUD Committee did decide to conduct an internal review, but it is very hard to trust internal Council checks considering that the 2004 Audit NZ report was so critical of Council practices. Until that report was produced, the whole organisation thought it was moving along fine and it took an independent investigation to expose the problems.
At a meeting last week, Cr Dick Quax recommended a motion to have an independent inquiry initiated because a report back from the internal review was long overdue. The Council Director of Environmental Management was very quick to defend the internal review he was working on, and was so adamant that an independent inquiry was not necessary that he yelled out and interrupted Councillors during the meeting.
Unfortunately Cr Quax’s recommendation did not gain much support from the meeting despite the seriousness of the high rise issue in the Howick Community. Disappointingly for Howick, Councillor Sharon Stewart decided to speak against the recommendation for an independent inquiry, even though the request had come from both the Howick Community Board and the local ratepayers association.
The questions that now need to be asked are:
· What is being covered up by the consistent opposition to an independent inquiry into 16 Fencible Drive?
· Who is being protecting over such obvious mistakes when the decision was made?
Rates Inequality in Manukau – The Real Numbers:
One of the most common remarks made about Manukau City rates is that one side of the city seems to subsidise the other and that rates are not being spread equally. It is no surprise that ratepayers are very intuitive when it comes to the rating situation – after all, it is their hip pockets that are being drained year after year with little, if any, tangible benefits. Recently a forecast breakdown of rating information for 2005/06 was requested from council accountants and the results of that information was very interesting.
Current Council policy around rating fairness states that “not more than 6% of residential ratepayers [will be] charged more than 25% above the average residential rate”. This may seem like a fair target on the outside, but it does not address the fact that leveraging rates based on property value (be it land or capital value) does not relate to ability to pay or council services received or consumed. This anomaly in rating policy and related legislation means that:
· many ratepayers are charged more than their fair share of rates, especially in eastern suburbs
· superannuate ratepayers, who typical are on the lowest incomes and consume the least amount of council services, are the worst off within the city.
Using current Council rating policy, 20.3% of Pakuranga ratepayers, or 2,662 people, will pay more than $1,735 (25% above the average residential rate). In Howick, 12.3% will pay this amount, and in Botany-Clevedon 7% will.
The unfairness in rates becomes evident when these 3 wards are compared to other wards in Manukau City which all have less than 2% of ratepayers proposed to pay more than 25% above the average residential rate. In Otara, only 25 people or 0.3% of ratepayers will pay this amount. Other wards are very similar with Papatoetoe – 0.5% / Manurewa – 0.7% / Mangere – 1.8%.
In Pakuranga, Howick and Botany-Clevedon, 768 people will pay more than $2500 in rates, compared to only 143 in the rest of the city. The reason the rating statistics put eastern suburbs at such a disadvantage is because 3/4 of the rates charged are derived from property values and only 1/4 comes from uniform charges.
It is very clear than many of the services that Council provides are used by almost all ratepayers and it would make sense to be funded by a uniform charge that is the same for everyone. This is already done for rubbish collection and the same theory could be applied to items such as libraries, swimming pools, parks, roads etc. Utilising more uniform charges that are standardised for everybody would also add a degree of transparency to the rating system because people would clearly be able to identify where a lot of their money is being spent.
Fairness and equality is something the Council should always be striving for, along with openness and transparency. Some of the submissions to the Council’s draft Annual Plan have very good suggestions for effectively spreading the rates burden across the city and hopefully Councillors will take note.
Dissappointed That Auckland City Dumped the Eastern Corridor?
The new Auckland City Council has been determined since the last election to destroy the Eastern Transport Corridor as much as possible. The corridor will be of huge benefit to Manukau City residents who have to face gridlock day in and day out, but there is little hope of it proceeding within the current Council term.
The NZ National Party has recently released its roading and transport policy, and leader Dr. Don Brash has confirmed that National will complete the Auckland roading network which includes the Eastern Transport Corridor. The policy also proposes that all petrol taxes collected from roads will be put back into roads.
National’s plan for better roads can be viewed here: http://www.national.org.nz/Article.aspx?ArticleId=3955
Council News In Brief…
· Road resealing policies to be reviewed
· Council to produce $500,000 newsletter
· Annual Plan hearings begin 24 May 2005
· Taskforce for building and resource consents completed
· Concept plans for Half Moon Bay Ferry Terminal produced
· Submissions on “growth centre intensification” close 31 May 2005
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