Over the next few weeks we have the opportunity to comment on the 2015 – 2024 Long Term Plan for the Auckland Council. Included will be a proposed 3.5% annual increase in the overall rates take which, after a planned reduction in rates for businesses over the course of the decade, translates to an average annual increase for residential properties of 5%. That’s a 63% increase over 10 years!
It is claimed that this increase is needed for the increased infrastructure required by a city that aspires to grow in population by about 40% over the next 25 years.
What concerns me greatly is that the cost base onto which these increases will be added is already considerably higher than it was supposed to be. We were promised significant savings from the amalgamation of 8 Councils into the “Super City” and the creation of the so-called “Council Controlled Organisations” [CCOs]. Council often claims savings from these new structures but most ratepayers have only to look at their rates notices over the last 4 years to know these claims are dubious or contrived.
Most of us residing on Waiheke gain little more benefit from Auckland’s infrastructure and services than the residents of the Waikato or Northland. Even most of our commuters make relatively little use of these services and the transport subsidies some of them get in town are under threat.
In addition, a year’s experience on the Local Board has convinced me that decision making in this complex structure is simply not geared to be nimble and cost effective enough to be responsive to Waiheke’s needs.
It seems worth exploring, therefore, whether Waiheke is better or worse off from the complex governance structures, infrastructure development and increasing costs inherent in being part of Auckland Council.
Waiheke has quite different aspirations, is physically quite separate and has relatively little infrastructure.
Waiheke does not share the values or aspirations of the wider Auckland region. Most people in Auckland aspire to, or at least accept, the “radical transformation” and “greater intensification” of the urban area that is being promoted by Auckland Council and its CCOs.
Waiheke residents do not consider themselves “urban” and we would rather focus on the preservation and restoration of our environment than on growth that may change the character envisaged in our “Essentially Waiheke Village and Rural Communities Strategy” and our relaxed lifestyle.
There’s not a road, a pipe or any form of Council owned physical connection with the mainland. The only physical connections – ferries, telecommunications and power lines, are privately owned. Our transport and roading services suffer from a lack of long term planning and poor quality work. They are motor vehicle centric and are a source of constant dissatisfaction. The only public transport subsidy we receive on island is for after hours bus services.
We collect our own water and treat our own waste water. Solid waste management was taken from our community’s control 5 years ago and we are now told we must meet the full costs of this service – over $530 extra per household. We fight a constant battle with Council planners over the intent of our District Plan and the Unitary Plan process is threatening a reduction in some of the environmental protections we thought we had safeguarded.
Could we go it alone?
Of course we could! We now have a highly skilled and committed community, keen to share its expertise and voluntary labour in pursuit of better governance and the wellbeing of both our environment and our people.
There are 10 District Councils in NZ with a population and number of rateable properties similar to Waiheke’s. Research into their services, revenues and the costs they face has made it very clear to me that our island is quite capable of self governance in financial terms.
Waiheke collects considerably more in rates and other revenue than all but one of the 10 District Councils mentioned and yet we have far less kilometers of roads and footpaths, drainage systems, bridges etc than any of them. Our community facilities, new library notwithstanding, are quite ordinary compared to theirs. Most of them have one or more swimming pools and their parks and reserves seem to be held in high regard by their residents. They manage water supply and waste water treatment systems and their waste removal operations cost a fraction of the over $5m ours costs – even allowing for the need to barge our refuse off island.
Legislation now makes it possible to propose a stand alone Council for Waiheke
Amendments to local government legislation in 2012 and 2014 now allow communities with less than 10,000 residents to propose “re-organisations”. They have also streamlined the process involved in making proposals to the deciding body, the Local Government Commission [LGC]. We have been to see the LGC and it has provided advice on how to go about the process of proposing a new local Council.
Discussion and explanations needed
Making such a proposal requires a great deal of discussion and explanation to ensure that yet more change to our local government arrangements are worth the effort. We need to understand the costs and risks inherent in making further change and to determine how to manage any risks to best effect. There are many issues involved and many divergent interests to take into account. I therefore plan to hold a wide-ranging dialogue with our community on this subject over the coming 3-6 months.
The foundation stones will be to demonstrate that improved governance, more targeted planning and more cost effective administration would result from any proposal that is accepted by the LGC for implementation. To achieve a separate local Council for Waiheke it will be vital that we can demonstrate strong support from most of the community for the idea.
Finally, may I urge readers to spend a few minutes watching a video that demonstrates the success of meaningful devolution to communities in the Thames Coromandel Council area at …. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T49QcJ8Hs1w . You will find it inspiring and a demonstration that rates CAN be reduced without sacrificing core Council services through closer interaction with, and empowerment of communities.
If you are keen to help develop this discussion, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Meeuwsen, Member, Waiheke Local Board
18 January, 2015