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Cap Invites Rates Inquiry To Meet Westies

Media Release, 28/2/07

Cap Invites Rates Inquiry To Meet Westies

At Auckland’s public session of the Local Government Rates Inquiry, in its whistle-stop here for one-third of New Zealand’s people, Rose Hollins spoke for the westies of Citizens Against Privatisation (CAP).

“Representatives of the region’s Councils who’d had a relaxed discussion about the quest of the Inquiry for alternatives to progressive property-valued rates, were notable by their absence from the afternoon session where the community had their say,” Rose Hollins said. “No more than 15 of us got to speak in the time available.”

In her opening statement, Rose Hollins said, “Citizens Against Privatisation invites Inquiry Panel members to a public meeting organised by CAP to examine rating issues more fully.”

Inquiry chair, David Shand, had told the gathering that the Panel had already met Federated Farmers and other unnamed interest groups. “CAP’s intention,” Rose Hollins said, “is to provide an evening venue which more ordinary working people can attend, with much better advance notice, to tell the Inquiry what they think.”

Panel member Christine Cheyne indicated that around April 18, when the Rates Inquiry returns to Auckland, could be suitable. The three-member Panel and its four or five staff are all part-timers.

CAP is planning that public meeting for Thursday, April 19.

Commenting on a nationwide analysis of local body funding in an Inquiry publication, compiled from unreported work by the Local Government Funding Project, Rose Hollins said, “While user charges seem to be included in the 20% of revenues, the 56% rates income of Councils conceals within it the ongoing shift of the rates burden from big business and the wealthy onto the majority of people who earn under $20,000 a year.”

“Alternatives to rates?”, she said, “Come again? Councils have already found them, and they’re all aimed at us. This year alone, for instance, Auckland City has switched $2.5m from business differential rates onto residential rates.” A Bill to restructure Auckland’s regional governance, announced by another speaker as due on March 9, is also linked into the Rates Inquiry.

“The presentation of pensioners from Waitakere Gardens retirement village of their $600 uniform annual charge (UAGC) and $350 flat charge for wastewater, which could be as much as 80% of their rates, is also indicative of this shift,” Rose Hollins said. “This could mean that progressive rates based on the lower property value of their small apartments already account for only 20%.”

This rates review could potentially raise the current 30% UAGC threshold to 100% of rates, or introduce poll taxes.

Rose Hollins said, “The Funding Project cited was initiated by the Local Government Forum, a big business group interested in Councils’ operations and closely linked with the Business Round Table. Profitable contracting-out and corporatisation of council services remains a major driver of increased costs for Councils, but low-wage jobs for their workers.”

“Auckland City’s Works and Services Dept has no workers,” Rose Hollins told the meeting, “like Waitakere City and North Shore’s, recently sold as Techscape, to international construction and road tolls company, Bilfinger Berger, which also supplies the labourforce for MetroWater.”

“The year before Auckland’s water LATE began in 1997,” she informed them, “Council rates funding for wastewater was $15m, but by 1999/2000 it was $99m, an increase under user pays of 650%.”

“Abolition of uniform, flat, and user charges, by a return to 100% property-valued rates; reversal of reductions in business differentials and unsmoothing of rates for top-value houses; undoing commercialising and privatising of community services; these are alternatives this Rates Inquiry is not seeking,” CAP concluded.


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