2013 – YOUR CITY – YOUR CALL!
It Starts NOW
(Well as far as I am concerned it does)
Professor Wendell Cox talks about – Regionalism (Or Super City-ism)
From his New Geography piece: Regionalism: Spreading the Fiscal Irresponsibility.
From the 2013 Local Election page here at VOAKL:
View of Auckland will be exclusively shining the light at the upcoming Election and subsequent campaign as incumbent councillors, Local Board members, the mayor, plus candidates wanting the fore-mentioned positions of Office go out and “work the floor” for our vote (the one’s that can be bothered to do so).
Professor Cox wrote an article at New Geography on the pitfalls on “Regionalism,” or in our own way “Super Cities.” You can read his article at New Geography by hitting the link above. What I intend to do in this “Your City, Your Call” series article is highlight the observations Professor Cox has made over in the USA in regards Regionalism, and see what if any comparisons can be made here in New Zealand. Okay this piece might be more for the Super City wonks, but I’ll endeavour to point out how “Regionalism” (as Professor Cox put it) has actually affected Auckland and possibly soon other areas in New Zealand (especially Wellington).
Professor Cox pointed out six aspects that in his academic opinion are the implications regionalism has against the ordinary citizen (notice I said against not for), they are:
- Smart Growth
- Local Government Amalgamation
- Regional Tax Sharing
- Spreading the Financial Irresponsibility
- Either Way the Threat is Very Real
As I said earlier, you can read the six aspects against the ordinary citizen or ratepayer in Professor Cox’s Regionalism: Spreading the Fiscal Irresponsibility.
Now the question is how does those six aspects affect Auckland and why am I shining the light at this. The answer is simple. Check your rates and water rates bills – do they alarm you? Does Council spending alarm you? Does paying more for the same if not less level of services provided by Council alarm you? Does being roughshod by Council or the Council Control Organisations alarm you? If you answered yes to any of this then what I am going to say below might be of interest to you.
This is my take on each of the six aspects pointed out from Professor Cox.
I do not believe in it and when compiling my submission to The Auckland Plan I basically said I was dead against the aspects of Smart Growth. I favour the more liberal mixed approach where you have some intensification (Brownfield) development and some sprawl (Greenfield) development. The market would be the best provider of which is needed more or less and all Council has to do is lay the zones and “assist” in providing the core infrastructure. Citizens, businesses, developers, investors, and industries build, maintain and give life to cities – not Councils and certainly not their bureaucrats called Planners. So to me Council needs to butt out and provide the basics for the City of Auckland, we will do the rest.
It’s here and happened as Auckland is now one big super city with one Council and Mayor. What we have to watch and as I have alluded to in an earlier post is the patch verse regional methods of thinking. Unfortunately for Auckland we got lugged with a system where we have Wards elect their councillor(s) who then sit around the Council table with the Mayor and supposedly represent their Ward’s views. We did not get a system where Auckland has a mix of Ward councillors representing their Wards and Councillors at-large elected by the entire City (so they have no Wards). The purpose of “at-large” Councillors was to give a sense of balance to the Council. The Ward Councillors could focus on their Wards while at-large Councillors focus on the region of Auckland as a whole. However we have what we have and it runs the risk of “patch-wars” (as seen in the Long Term Planning forums) where people are focused solely on their patches and not the region as the whole. That in itself is not good as you get fragmentation, and as you know fragmentation gets us no-where.
So what can we do about this, especially as the rates debate has bitterly divided the city. To be honest there is not a lot with the current legislation, so reaching out and fostering cooperation amongst the wards is the best approach we have.
Local Government Amalgamation
I highly suggest reading the New Geography article first to get Professor Cox’s take on this. In particular it is this point I want to raise:
Yet the “bigger is better” faith in local government amalgamation remains compelling to many from both the Right and Left. Proponents claim that smaller local governments are obsolete, characterizing them as being from the horse-and-buggy era. The same logic could be used to eliminate county and even state governments. However, democracy remains a timeless value. If people lose control of their governments to special interests (which rarely, if ever, lobby for less spending), then democracy is lost, though the word will still be invoked.
Support of local government amalgamation arises from a misunderstanding of economics, politics and incentives (or perhaps worse, contempt for citizen control). When two jurisdictions merge, everything is leveled up, from labor costs to service levels. The labor contracts, for example, will reflect the wage, benefit and time off characteristics of the more expensive community, as the Toronto “megacity” learned to its detriment.
Further, special interests have more power in larger jurisdictions, not least because they are needed to finance the election campaigns of elected officials, who always want to win the next election. They are also far more able to attend meetings – sending paid representatives – than local groups. This is particularly true the larger the metropolitan area covered, since meeting are usually held in the core of urban area not in areas further on the periphery. This greater influence to organized and well-funded special interests – such as big real estate developers, environmental groups, public employee unions – and drains the influence of the local grassroots. The result is that voters have less influence and that they can lose financial control of larger local governments.The only economies of scale in larger local government benefit lobbyists and special interests, not taxpayers or residents.
The last part in bold is the “hitting the nail on the head” point that caught my attention the most. Because it is damn well true and Aucklanders know it. How much influence has the average ratepayer (business and resident) lost towards Auckland Council due to these special interests which included our Council Controlled Organisations – The CCOs. Do I need to point out a list of how the average ratepayer got the bum’s rush due to these special interests:
- The V8s and Councillor Goudie’s rather stupid declaration
- The Local Government New Zealand Conference in Queenstown (which reminds me I need to follow that up)
- The Long Term Plan
- The Auckland Plan
- The Cruise Ship Terminal
The list could go on.
What can we do? The best weapon’s is two-fold: first continue to shine the light onto Council and the CCOs and ask those brutal questions as it is our democratic right to do so; second elect representatives who are honest and with integrity who will remain open and honest, but most of all help in shining that light into the dark murky corners of Council and the CCOs. Now I know both are tough especially when options are so few (the second one comes to mind most) but at the end of the day:
Citizens, businesses, developers, investors, and industries build, maintain and give life to cities – not Councils and certainly not their bureaucrats called Planners. Because OUR CITY, OUR CALL!
Regional Tax Sharing
In my intro post to the Your City – Your Call series I had mentioned this:
“I also agree with Desley, Orakei paying $105m in rates and only getting $10m approx back to the Local Board for local operations and projects is a bit off. If the Super City was done properly 25-33% of a Ward’s rates should go straight back to the Local Board to use as they (and their residents) see fit.”
And I strongly believe in that as I have seen money being stripped from Local Boards and dumped into the CBD or things like the V8s. Manurewa Local Board and its Chair Angela Dalton can give a testament to Council stripping her Local Board of cash and sending it else where. In my submission to the Auckland Plan, I was a strong believer in giving the Local Boards true power and actual money to do their jobs. Although in my submission it was in the case to urban planning (page 27 it gets the first mention), it can be easily extended to other aspects like pools and parks as well.
So if Council had half a clue then between 25-33% of all revenue from rates in a particular Ward should be given back to the Ward via The Local Board, from the Governing Body so The Local Board can provide the local services for its communities. And by services I mean (for example):
- Community Centres
- Local Parks and Gardens
- Local Roads (in coordination with Auckland Transport)
- Local Events (or in cooperation with Council if deemed a regional event)
- Advocacy for citizens
- Sports fields (in coordination with Council)
- Maintenance and enhancement of local town centres
- Over-seeing any urban development in their area
- Small-scale capital projects
How this could work is that a cap of say 33% of all rates revenue raised can be given back to the particular Local Board to do as they need in service provision depending on the Local Board’s ten year and annual plans. So if for the 2012/2013 year Papakura Local Board needed 20% of revenue it raised to carry out its functions then it would get the 20% from Council. In the 2013/2014 year the Local Board need the full 33% due to some capital projects then it will get the full 33% from Council. Finally in the 2014/2015 year the Local Board did some savings and finished it capital projects so only requested 19% from Council to which it would get. Furthermore, if the Local Board did not spend its budget for the year, then it would carry over for up to a maximum of five years or 50% of their average revenue (over the life of the Long Term Plan)(so which ever is first up) before the Local Board surrendered the surplus back to the Governing Body.
This way I believe we get a better return from our Local-Community Democracy (the Local Board) where the Boards have real money for real service provision while being able to be the advocacy point for locals in the community – unlike current.
There is one revenue sharing gripe I do have and it is with Central Government. You see with our rates bill, it includes the 15% GST which goes straight to Central Government’s coffers and to me that blows. I therefore suggest two things to Central Government:
- Give all the GST collected from our rates back to the city. You might find Council being able to afford the CRL a little bit better than current.
- Or if you can’t or won’t do that then remove GST off our rates and save us 15%
Technically a win-win-win no matter which of the options you take. Take option one and Council would be able to fund more things although it then has an incentive to drive rates up to get more GST revenue back. Take option two and with the savings we get on our rates the money re-enters the economy increasing the tax-take anyhow.
So sharpen up your pencil Bill English – Minister of Finance and share the cash.
Spreading the Financial Irresponsibility
This bit caught my attention:
The voters are no match for the spending interests with more efficient access to City Hall. The incentives in such larger jurisdictions are skewed against fiscal responsibility and the interests of taxpayers. Making an even larger pool of tax revenues available can only make things worse.
At the same time, the smaller, suburban jurisdictions around the nation are often the bright spot in an environment of excessive federal, state and larger municipal government spending. Their governments, close to the people, are the only defense against the kind of beggar-the-kids-future spending that has already captured the federal government, state governments and some larger local jurisdictions.
Yeah well we can see that already happening in Auckland with those special interests now near the tap of larger pool of rates revenue. More revenue – more spending. And our Council is being damn reckless with its spending as the bitter rates debate is showing.
I have a challenge to Council, shave 10% off your OPEX bill (in real times) by the end of the current long-term plan (2022). It just might mean an actual reduction in our rates bill coupled with a healthier city not burden by Council debt or fiscal irresponsibility. Tough challenge but I say it can be done because we SHOULD ALL LIVE WITHIN OUR MEANS.
Just on that I picked up a comment on Facebook and it went something like this:
Households set a budget by drawing up the income first then drawing up the expenses that it can afford from its income. If expenses exceed income it is either cut costs, raise more revenue, or run with debt in hoping to pay it down rather soon. If income exceeds expenses you either spend more, invest, pay down debt or save – rather simple.
Council does the opposite. Draw up your expenses then work out how to get the revenue to pay for your expenses. Rather than draw up your revenue first then work out what the heck you can afford.
Something does seem fishy with that analogy does it not? Time to correct it next year when you elect your new Council, Mayor and Local Boards. As Council should: draw up your revenue first then work out what the heck you can afford.
Either Way the Threat is Very Real
A message to Wellington and others up to be Super City sized. Be-wary! Auckland is still going through its infancy of Regionalism – Super City-ism in which is having mixed results. 2013 ratepayers will determine the threat of being relegated below special interest groups as our money gets pissed away like it from some limitless source while our sense of democracy including holding those in Council accountable is diminished.
For me personally I will be looking for (when choosing a representative and mayor) who will be: fiscally responsible with MY money, actively LISTEN to what I have to say, engage in DIALOGUE not Monologue, properly resource my Local Board so it can provide advocacy on my behalf and run our community facilities, and stay the heck out of my way as
Citizens, businesses, developers, investors, and industries build, maintain and give life to cities – not Councils and certainly not their bureaucrats called Planners.
Because OUR CITY, OUR CALL!
2013 – YOUR CITY – YOUR CALL!