Here’s an article from Spinoff last week:
Wellington’s mayor Tory Whanau will present her first budget to the council today. As our Wellington editor Joel MacManus explains, today’s presentation of the proposed 10-year budget for Wellington is the first big meeting to decide Wellington’s Long Term Plan and Whanau’s most significant opportunity to put her stamp on the city. MacManus notes that while Whanau isn’t keen on the budget being described as an “austerity” budget, it certainly looks like one. Plenty of potential cuts loom for cycleways, footpaths, pothole repairs, libraries, pools, sports fields and skateparks. MacManus has further details in his piece linked above and is undertaking the noble task of liveblogging the meeting today on The Spinoff. Wellingtonians, stay tuned for updates throughout the day.
Our Council was supposed to be debating the budget this past week but has been deferred to next week. I assume it will be held in public. Where is our mayor on this topic? Has he undertaken the same exercise as the Wellington mayor? If he has, will he share it with his colleagues and the ratepayers of this city?
BTW – Councillor Sara Templeton’s facebook page is always a good place to go for fact checking on Council matters – here is her article about this on 21 October
To try and get my mind around the budgets I asked the following questions under a LOGIMA:
1. Regarding the 18.8% rates increase announced by the mayor in the Press on the 17th of October.
- Could I please have a copy of the budget on which this estimated rate increase was based.
- Could I have a copy of the Financial Strategy prepared for the LTP 25-35.
- When were the ELT first made aware of the 18.8% rate increase and the Financial Strategy. What input did the ELT have on this figure, please provide me a copy of the report of their deliberations.
- When were the Mayor and Chair of F&P first made aware of the 18.8% rate increase. Who advised them? Please supply correspondence on this topic.
- Please provide the reports, other information, and record of discussions outlining the rationale for the rate increase. Was this first presented to Council as part of the CCHL discussion, held on last Tuesday at 1.30pm, rather than as part of the LTP briefings/discussion?
- Is 18.8% still the current estimated rate increase?
2. If 18.8% is not the current projected rates increase:
- Please provide any document which includes the current estimated rate increase.
- Please supply any proposed budget savings that have been identified to reduce the 18.8% increase initially proposed by the mayor.
- When were these savings discussed with the Mayor and when were they provided to Councillors. Please supply the reports.
- Please supply any minutes of the councillor’s response to any rates discussions.
- What other information or advice on other options for reducing rates are being explored.
What has become very clear is that the mayor was obviously advised on closing small libraries and pools before he made his, unwise, comments on 17th of October.
Where this advice came from is concerning and must be publicly highlighted. We are keen to ensure that the debate on this LTP is in the open and available early so that councillors can have serious, in depth and sensible discussions with members of the public who can add value to this important exercise. I have led this sort of discussion on many occasions and have found widespread debate helpful and that it often changes significantly the final deliberations for the better.
I received the following answer:
Council staff are currently preparing advice on the potential rates figures and on possible savings proposals and other ways of reducing rates. This information is in draft and has not yet been presented to the Mayor and Councillors, so no decisions have been made, but it will be presented within the next few weeks.
The key information was part of the LTP briefing on 17 October. The materials can be found on the Council’s website here: Long Term Plan 2024-2034 | What matters most? | Kōrero mai | Let’s talk (ccc.govt.nz):
17 October 2023
- Joint development briefing slide pack https://letstalk.ccc.govt.nz/download_file/838/527
- Media Response https://letstalk.ccc.govt.nz/download_file/837/527
- We are also preparing a summary of discussion points we will provide you early next week.
Within the joint development briefing slide pack, refer to slide 18 for potential starting position for 2024/25 (18.8%). We can confirm this is no longer accurate. This work is still in progress and there will be discussions with Mayor and Councillors in November to provide a more accurate figure.
In line with our LTP presentations of activity plans being recorded and released, we are looking at a Council open workshop on these topics before the end of the year, noting that in some cases proposed savings are not be able to be shared with the public in detail at this stage. The main opportunity for public consultation will occur when the Consultation Document is prepared and released in early 2024.
As per the above, we have decided to withhold some of the draft material under the following sections of the LGOIMA – 7(2)(f)(i) – to maintain the effective conduct of public affairs through the free and frank expression of opinions.
In the Council’s view the reasons for withholding these details are not outweighed by public interest considerations in section 7(1) favouring their release.
Recently Phil Mauger announced prematurely that the rates increase was going to be 18.8 %, before the numbers had been considered by the full council. That sets alarm in the community. People read that and think “hells bells, my current rates plus 18.8 %, how on earth will I find that money”. Especially for those on fixed incomes in a house which has gone up enormously in value through no fault of their own.
I don’t know how many times over the years staff have proposed large rate increases at first for the rates consideration by council members. Every time the initial rate increases are reduced considerably. Without putting any science into my estimate I’d say they will end up around 9%. Phil’s election promises of keeping the rates around 4% were irresponsible, demonstrating that he didn’t have a clue about public finance, nor does he seem capable of taking the majority of the council table with him. Here’s how the Press reported this https://www.thepress.co.nz/a/nz-news/350092922/perfect-storm-tough-decisions-ahead-council-under-financial-pressure.
The other “announcement” recently was his comment about closing small libraries and swimming pools. In the reply to my LOGIMA printed above the staff replied:
The Mayor was not provided with any specific briefing on libraries. He simply chose that as an example to illustrate the challenges Council will face in maintaining services and affordable rates.
The response to the mayor’s unwise comments filled the Letters to the Editor column. Then one marvellous article was written by Rachael King https://www.thepress.co.nz/a/nz-news/350094558/inside-building-book-whats-inside-book. Here’s the graphic which went with the story by Megan Salole:
Here’s another collection of writing about libraries from a group of people Why libraries are so much more than ‘buildings with some books in’ | The Spinoff
I well remember a debate in my time about closing small libraries. There was a mood at the Council table, not shared by me, that the rates should be around the CPI. So out went a rates proposal to get rid of many things including little libraries. The response was the same as this week. We received 1000 submissions on just that matter alone. The councillors who had promoted the low figure were quickly running for the hills. Out of this came a small libraries policy which was a result of long consideration by council staff and members of the public. I wonder if the CE and the CFO have never read this and Phil sure hasn’t. That would be a good place to start.
One thing I read recently is that we have become over politicised and under moralised. What worries me about CCC is that it’s an organisation which must always be about the long term. Nowadays the place does not appear to have a great institutional memory with either most of the executive nor at the Council table.