Here is the full text of the letter.
Earlier in the week submissions closed on Auckland Council's Annual Budget - the document which sets rates for the financial year beginning in July.
As per usual, your team at the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance sent in a submission on behalf of hard-working ratepayers like you (a summary of the submission is below). We asked to present in person to Councillors, as has been common in the past. One of the issues the Council will be considering is Phil Goff's proposal to increase the wages of the Council and impose a "living wage" for all staff. We had lined up an expert labour economist who used to work for the Department of Labour to present to Councillors.
We've now discovered that to avoid having to listen to ratepayers, Councillors resolved not to allow people to submit in person on this year’s budget. They didn’t even want us – New Zealand’s largest ratepayer group - to present. They said ratepayers are not a ‘key stakeholder’.
"We'll decide what your rates are, but we don't want to hear from you" — Auckland Councillors
Councillor Daniel Newman proposed an amendment to Mayor Phil Goff’s consultation plan. This is what is recorded in the Council minutes: (I am unable to insert the pdf of the amendment put by Daniel Newman but suffice to say it was voted down by 6 votes to 10. For the amendment were: Daniel Newman, Greg Sayers, Wayne Walker and Chris Fletcher, Mike Lee and Cathey Casey. Against were the new Terrible Ten Phil Goff, Chris Darby, Richard Hills, Penny Hulse, Ross Clow, Bill Cashmore, Linda Cooper, E Collins, Denise Lee, Desley Simpson, . )
Councillors voted to only hear from their own group of "sock puppet" organisations like the Property Council (which the Council uses our money to fund).
We wrote to the Finance Committee Chair Councillor Ross Clow asking what sort of consultation involves only inviting hand-picked parties to present to Councillors before submissions even close. You can read our letter here.
As explained in the letter, what the Council is doing is probably illegal. But Councillors know that by making sure that it hears from those most likely to mount a legal challenge, they can avoid the bad publicity of having ratepayers tell them what they think about yet another year of rate hikes many times the level of inflation.
We say that ratepayers are a key stakeholder and should be allowed a say on this year's budget.
If you agree that Councillors should be hearing from ratepayers and not just the Council's hand-picked elite, please take a moment to email those Councillors who voted to stop you having your say on your rates bill.
Click here to send an email to the Councillors who blocked ratepayers from having a say.
Thank you for lending your support.
P.S unlike most of the groups the Council will let speak to Councillors, we do not accept a cent of funding from the Council. If you agree with our submission below, click here to chip into the campaign fighting for lower rates, lease waste and more transparency at Auckland Council.
Key points of Ratepayers’ Alliance submission on draft annual budget:
· Until such a time as Aucklanders can trust the Council to be responsible with our money, we do not support any rate increase in excess of inflation. Before rate increases are exercised, the Council needs to show that it values ratepayer dollars as much as those ratepayers who earned them.
· The consultation papers fail to show that the Council has taken any meaningful steps in the preparation of the Budget to cut wasteful spending. Instead, all efforts appear to be directed at finding new ways to increase the Council’s tax burden on Aucklanders and increase spending. If the Council takes all forms of current spending for granted, then rates will never plateau or fall. There is no evidence of the spending reviews talked about during last year’s election campaign.
· The Council cannot credibly claim that rate hikes will go toward the purpose of better infrastructure. We saw this with the implementation of the transport levy. According to the CEO of Auckland Transport, after the levy was introduced, there was a reduction in capital expenditure on transport. In other words, Aucklanders were lied to.
· Those Councillors who signed the 2% Ratepayer Protection Pledge are bound to support the low rates (2%) option.
· There is significant evidence that living wage policies hurt the people they are intended to help. Lower-skilled workers are crowded out of the market by higher-skilled candidates attracted by the higher wage. While the living wage policy would be costly for ratepayers, the desired reductions in poverty are unlikely to be achieved.
· Unless targeted tourism provider rates are accompanied by equal decreases in residential rates, then none of the options in the consultation papers are appropriate.
You can read the full submission here.
Whatever I think of Mike Lee and Cathy Casey, they are both people of principle who believe in democracy. To their credit they are among the six voting for free speech along with Daniel Newman, Greg Sayers, Wayne Walker and Chris Fletcher.
It defies belief that a former leader of the Labour Party and now Mayor of Auckland can have so little regard for democracy that he would refuse to even listen to the largest ratepayers organisation in the country. What has Goff and his cabal of anti-democratic councillors got to fear from listening to the voice of those who pay their wages? Nothing! But it seems they are too scared of ratepayers to even grant them a hearing. This does not bode well for the future of the city.