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Open Letter regarding Waiheke getting it's own Council

Open Letter to the Local Governance Commission regarding Waiheke getting it's own Council
Suzanne Doig,
CEO, Local Government Commission.
Our Waiheke response to the Morrison Low “Auckland Reorganisation Process: Auckland Options Assessment” report.
Dear Suzanne,
Thanks to the LGC for giving Our Waheke an opportunity to access the Morrison Low [ML] report. We have been considering it for some days and, frankly, we believe the report is not an analysis as it has been described but rather a simplistic extrapolation from material provided by the Auckland Council and CCOs. Worse, it provides no detail other than bald totals for revenue and expenditures or how those figures were arrived at. This denies us an ability to effectively respond to or challenge the figures. We believe the LGC should provide us with ML’s disaggregated figures before the 4 August meeting.

The report makes presumptuous assertions about the likely capabilities of smaller councils in NZ – as if, ipso facto, size is a determinant of quality.

Some smaller councils are award winning and/or centres of excellence and innovation. By our assessment, and the figures provided by ML, of councils with less than 20,000 population are, pro rata, much more cost efficient and valued by their communities than the Auckland Council has proved to be. We look forward to sharing ML’s assertions about their likely capabilities with these councils when confidentiality on the report is lifted, so that we may gather their reactions to ML’s views on their capability for the LGC to take into account.

There is no indication that any of the well researched and reasoned material Our Waiheke and NAG have supplied to the LGC to date has been taken into account in this “analysis”. In particular the fact that Waiheke is an island, with all the simplicity of operation and separation from almost all “regional” interactions that that brings, has been ignored. We will explore this further at a later date as it impacts on quite a few presumptions ML has made about complexity or the costs of regional council functions that we would dispute or temper.
There was no effort made to provide even the most rudimentary benchmarking against councils with similarities to the Waiheke context as repeatedly requested by us.

There was also no examination of the possibility of any ‘reasonably practical option’ other than the most minimal departure from the status quo possible among the options they were to consider – i.e. the 2 Local Boards for Rodney option. The overall effect is to make the report seem like it had a predetermined outcome to deny our application despite the demonstrably strong support from our community for it.

We note that the revenue totals provided confirm that our estimate of council revenue generated by Waiheke [about $26m] was quite conservative. A Waiheke Council could additionally consider new revenue streams from, say, a visitor levy or advocacy for central government funding of tourist related facilities or a higher FAR rate from NZTA given the impact of visitors on our roads. Many other councils achieve a higher FAR rate than the 51% minimum.

The report therefore confirms that Waiheke generates much higher rates and other revenue than councils with a similar population and that expenditure by Auckland Council is much higher, pro rata, than expenditure by those councils. This despite the fact that there is far less infrastructure and fewer facilities on Waiheke than is the norm for councils in NZ. We have repeatedly made this case – seemingly in vain.

Comparable councils like Gore, Otorohanga, Statford, Opotiki and even larger ones like Ruapehu would wonder why it costs so much to fund an area that is only 92 sq kms, with 150kms of roading, 3 small bridges, no water supply or water treatment facilities, few and unconnected stormwater systems, one library and some halls, and the normal amount of reserves etc. Lower depreciation figures alone would have a big impact.

We have acknowledged that being an island brings some higher costs but the worst of those are capable of being reduced by better management or greater self-reliance. It is galling, for example, to have the full cost of waste management included in the expenditure figures when we know a return to the community control taken away by the Auckland City Council in 2009 makes it possible, when the contract expires in 2019, to ensure a return to the practices Waiheke had in place for reducing waste going to a mainland landfill etc. We have repeatedly pointed out that roading related costs are six+ times higher per km per annum than any other similar council area in NZ.

ML may have been working under the impression that only existing related council finances and other capabilities were to be considered in their analysis but even in that event, we would have expected that a consultancy claiming the sort of expertise this firm claims to have should have done a greater depth of analysis and estimation than is shown in the report. We basically just see a cost plus approach to expenditure on a base we believe is loaded with overheads and complexity Waiheke simply would not have to bear.

On behalf of NZ taxpayers we believe that, whatever the cost of this report, it was not money well spent. If the report is used as a determining consideration by the LGC on the heavily supported NAG and Our Waiheke applications, then the outcome would be at odds with the National Government’s enthusiastic promotion of the benefits of the LG Act changes enacted in 2012, which were intended to “make it easier for communities…to apply for a local government re-organisation” and “We want communities.. to have more flexibility in developing re-organisation proposals” [David Carter and Nicky Wagner respectively, Hansard, 10 June 2012].

We will leave it there for now. We will go through the report in greater depth and provide more detailed comment on or after the meeting on 4 August. We will also prepare ourselves to brief our community and a wider audience when confidentiality is lifted.

Thank you for your consideration of this response.
John Meeuwsen
Our Waiheke
Click here to download the Morrison Low Auckland reorganisation process: Auckland Options Assessment July 2017 report

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