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Saturday, 23 February 2008

GREAT BARRIER OBSERVATIONS

(This was originally written for Barrier Bulletin in response to letters condemning the petition to the Local Government Commission to transfer the Hauraki Gulf Islands and Great Barrier Island from Auckland City Council to Thames-Coromandel District Council.)

Having money showered on you by a city might be nice, and it is nice for those who get juicy contracts, but it has a dark side. Money attracts money. The more an island is citified with city money the more attractive it is to city people, not as a place to live but as a party pad, a holiday pad, a skite pad. Then other property values rise, so the permanent population falls. Speculators, who care nothing for Great Barrier or its people, add their malign pressure to valuations, which rise further, the permanent population falls further, and so on.

You could ask if Auckland is doing that deliberately, or if is happening by accident. But a more fundamental question is, does Auckland really care about Great Barrier? Is it doing what it is doing for Great Barrier and its people or for itself? And are its bureaucrats pushing for expenditure because they care about Great Barrier or because of all those rates-funded jaunts to the island?

And Auckland, being a city, looks at things with city eyes. It likes doing things to city standards, which means city-high costs. Do the islands really need those costly toys, or would far more modest ones be OK?

Judge Auckland by its effect. Great Barrier's population is now much less than it was--at the 1996 census it was 1131, in 2001 it was 1017, in 2006 it was 852, and some islanders say only about 500 live there now. So Auckland's money is not buying you a stable, Great-Barrier-style future. Great Barrier is being moved ever closer in character to what it is in law: an outpost of Auckland City. But in geography it is off the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula; in character it is much closer to the peninsula than the city. It makes sense for it to match in law what it is in geography and character. Only then can its character be preserved.

My interest in this is simple. People have the right to be happy, they have the right to self-determination, they have the right not to be dominated and ruled by interests that are not in their best interests. If the application to the Local Government Commission is successful I am sure things will be better for each island.

Misleading figures are being used about Thames-Coromandel's rates, with the implications that Great Barrier's would soar if the islands were under that council rather than Auckland.

There is an old story about four blind men walking along in a row who bumped into an elephant. The one who hit its trunk said, 'Ah, an elephant is very like a snake.' The one who hit its leg said, 'No, an elephant is very like a tree.' The one who hit its side said, 'No, an elephant is very like a wall.' The one who hit its tail said, 'No, an elephant is very like a rope.'

It is wrong to hold up a tail and pretend that it's an elephant. A tail used recently, for instance, was that the Peninsula's draft 2008/2009 plan would hike rates an average of 12.17%. The implication was that if Great Barrier was under Thames-Coromandel it would also have that pistol at its head. That is just not true, because of the way TCDC's rating system works.

First, only 19% of the rates on average are on the full value of your property, the capital value. Then come fixed charges for wastewater reticulation, water reticulation and rubbish collection. Then come targeted rates based on improved value. So if you have an older property with a house on it valued at $100,000, but speculators or city-pad types have pushed the capital value to a million, only 19% on average would be based on the million, most would be on the $100,000.

Second, the fixed charges apply only if you have those services. If you lived in Thames and had wastewater and water connected and rubbish-collection, you would get a rates increase of 17-19% if the 2008/2009 plan is approved. But if you lived somewhere that only had a rubbish-collection your charge would go from $102.72 to $109.16--so your rates would soar by the crippling sum of $6.44.

But because Great Barrier has no reticulated wastewater and water, and little rubbish-collection, it would have been little affected by any change in fixed charges. You would be in the same category as places on the peninsula that have no services and are expected to see a slight drop in rates.

An elephant is not a tail. The tales being told about rates are just that: tales.