Address to HMLB on 21 July 2020 by Gary Osborne
Mr Chairman, Board members, ladies and gentlemen, if we are to have any faith in the consultation process being a process for ratepayers to have their say then that process must be meaningful and transparent, listened to and acted upon.
On February 22 this year pool owners were advised of the council’s proposal to move from service fees payable upon a 3-yearly inspection, to a targeted rate payable in advance. Councillors had discussed the matter in workshops on 27 November 2019. Prior to this, the 2018/28 Long Term Plan had been adopted on 27 June 2018. Section 23 (3)(a) of the Local Government (Rating) Act 2002 says “A local authority may set a rate that is not provided for in its long-term plan and funding impact statement only if –
the local authority is satisfied that the rate is required to meet an unforeseen and urgent need for revenue that cannot be met by any other means, having regard to the manner in which it has, in its long-term plan and funding impact statement allocated the costs of the activities or groups of activities to which the need for revenue relates.”
At a meeting with Linda Cooper, Waitakere Ward Councillor, and Andrew Duncan, Manager Financial Policy, on 29 June, I asked the question “What is the unforeseen and urgent need for revenue that council is claiming was not provided for in the Long Term Plan or its Funding Impact Statement?” Mr Duncan was dismissive and said Section 23 was irrelevant. It couldn’t have been Covid-19 because Government did not announce that as an emergency until March 25, whereas councillors were discussing targeted rates in workshops 4 months earlier.
On 21 May councillors voted to accept the targeted rate following information provided by council officers. “The council proposed to replace the $130 first inspection fee for pool fencing inspections with an annual targeted rate of $44 for all private pool owners. 36 per cent of feedback from consultation supported this proposal while 40 per cent did not.” Councillors were also advised that the 5 local boards that had provided feedback all supported targeted rates.
Pool owners who contacted me expressed concern over the process, the difficulty in lodging submissions and in getting feedback. The original letter dated 22 Feb directed pool owners to a link on the Council website “Have your say” but there was no specific provision for feedback on pool fencing. I read every single submission on pool fencing. My analysis was at considerable variance with that provided to councillors — 55% against, 29% for.
On 2 June, when I offered to discuss the wide variation in analyses by taking one board as an example Mr Duncan said he was not prepared to waste a staff member’s time on it.
At our meeting on 29 June I read out the submissions from 3 of the Local Boards that had provided feedback supporting the proposal and asked Mr Duncan, by way of example, to classify one submission as a “yes” or “no”. He refused. I pointed out that in 4 out of the 5 Boards that had supported the proposal the majority of submitters were against it. I asked Linda Cooper how many submissions she had actually read. She said “none” but said councillors relied on the precis presented by council officers.
Mr Chairman, at our meeting on 8 June I discussed with you how I had classified each Henderson-Massey submission. I expressed concern about the wide variation in analyses.
With the inception of the Super City, we were promised accountability, transparency and efficiency. To date I have yet to see delivery. Ladies and gentlemen, consultation in Auckland Council is a sham.