From 1979 to 2000 I was CEO of three different private and public sector organisations. The last one of these, before my ultimate retirement, was a contract as Chief Executive of the Hastings District Council where I stayed for 9 years.
Recently I have been doing some work on a voluntary basis with the “Our Waiheke” group, looking at the feasibility of putting a proposal to the Local Government Commission to establish a new council for Waiheke. Auckland Council has huge problems which are not that relevant to Waiheke and an independent Waiheke Council, if financially viable, would be a better proposition for future governance and financial cost to the community. All possible efforts to put a well researched proposal to the LGC make good sense, even though it will be very challenging to obtain LGC approval.
I would not want to get involved if I could not satisfy myself that a small council could pay its way, so I have spent some time analyzing the annual reports of some of the smaller councils in NZ and have visited two councils in the last few days, having discussions with their CEOs and senior staff. This has enabled me to put together an organization structure for a Waiheke council and produce a budget showing what the financial picture would probably be
Although Waiheke has about 8500 residents (based on census), the population is much larger when holiday home owners are included. There are 6593 rateable properties covering residential, business and rural. The income seems to be quite adequate for an independent council and future rate increases should be well below the Auckland City forecasts. My budget shows a surplus on today’s costs and income, even after allowing a contingency sum of $1 million.
In addition to discussions with other councils, I recently spent a few hours driving around Waiheke roads with one of the top local government engineering managers (who retired this year). He has worked through the likely roading costs with me. There are approximately 130kms of sealed and 20kms of unsealed roads on the island and although clay based, should be maintained to a suitable standard with lime stabilization in the sealing mixes.
Waiheke is different from virtually every other council in NZ in that it has no piped water or wastewater systems (apart from the small one serving some Oneroa properties), is semi-rural in most residential streets with few footpaths, kerbs and channels ,or piped stormwater drainage and few street lights. Yet we pay the same residential rate in the dollar as a fully urban residential area in Auckland.
It also does not have rivers and the associated flood protection costs that Regional councils around the country have to finance. Therefore if Waiheke became a unitary authority, those regional type costs would be insignificant.
De-population and declining economic opportunities are today impacting on a number of provincial councils around the country. The LGC has proposed an amalgamation of all the Hawkes Bay councils into one unitary authority. This is largely driven by economic issues. Waiheke has no such problems. In fact one of the challenges facing the island will be how to manage inevitable growth.
Some people may voice concern that an elected Waiheke council would be a bunch of “left-wing greenies” who would make a complete mess of things. Others may say that a council could be dominated by wealthy people who are out to further their interests. With a democracy, one cannot guarantee that a perfect set of people would be elected as Mayor or Councilors. However most councils around the country have a fairly sensible balance of elected people who are dedicated to getting the best results and governance for the community. Waiheke is likely to be the same. Also a council has a chief executive and senior managers who must adhere to the law of the Local Government Act.
The disciplines on councils today are also very substantial, including 10 year financial forecasts, annual plans and annual reports. The audit and reporting requirements are very demanding and with a community the size of Waiheke, the transparency and public involvement should ensure that governance is pretty good. The great difference between a local board and a council is of course the decision making power a council has. With a small council, decisions can be made simply, quickly and economically whereas with the huge Auckland council a great amount of time is involved simply dealing with the large bureaucracy.
A Waiheke council should be able to attract and retain suitably qualified staff at the remuneration levels I have calculated.
Anyway, I hope those who read these papers find them of some interest and help form opinions on what the future for Waiheke should be.