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ROCKY BAY NEVER WAS OMIHA

A Waiheke Island Myth Part 1 On Waiheke Island, New Zealand, a myth has grown up among a handful of people in the Rocky Bay Village th...

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Tuesday, 29 July 2008

KEEP THE SWALES

Bravo! to Kate Hastings for making a fervent plea for the swales [shallow drainage ditches beside roads lined with grass or rocks or coarse gravel]. Her point is deeply underscored by the effect of climate-change. All the expensive, unnecessary kerbing and channelling that Auckland City Council 'recommends to' us (foists on) will be chucking ever greater volumes of road-grimed water into the ocean. Auckland is engineering our roads for a planet that no longer exists.

Auckland's fetish-worship of concrete kerbing and channelling is one element that is citifying the charm out of the island, as well as wasting a fortune and destroying a system of drainage that works with nature instead of against it. It should be stopped.

Even worse, as the figures published last week show, their bad management over the years has deprived the islands of up to $8.5 million in government roading subsidies.

Backward-looking, unsympathetic, inappropriate engineering, inept financial management all comes under one heading: Auckland City Council.

The only way of getting Auckland decisions off the island is to get Auckland off.

Under Thames-Coromandel community boards are virtually mini-councils. They have far more control, so decisions are made where they should be--locally. Not by some disengaged, careless City-Brained Empire. Over there isn't one.

CHANGE IN ACC NEWSPEAK

Waihekeans will no doubt dance in the streets upon learning that Auckland City Council is 'moving away' from using the word 'strategy' all the time. It has decided instead to use 'framework' or 'plan' in many places. Exactly what will determine which word is used is not clear. But don't worry. I expect they will work out a strategy, or a framework, or a plan to decide on that.

The silver lining in the drifting fog of officer-speak is that 'strategy', when used by ACC, was usually used wrongly anyway. 'Plan' is what they meant, or 'project,' or 'programme,' or 'method', or even something really simple like 'way.' 'Strategy' is a military term. It is what you do to manipulate the enemy into doing what you want, or being where you want, so that you gain the upper hand.

Of course the verbiage spewing out under whatever word they choose will still have the same sub-text, the age-old bureaucrats' motto: 'We're all going to live a thousand years, so tomorrow will do.' Therefore take forever, but dress it up with impressive-sounding guff and we will look very important and progressive (we think).

The Romans had a wise saying: 'When men cannot change things they change words.'

Doing something is unnecessary. Just change the language.

Another example of ACC's warping of English that has just come to light, and which you must get your head round, especially if you ask for one of its grants via the Community Board, is how to interpret its response. If your application is declined, the officers will record it in the minutes as 'received,' because they are afraid that you might be hurt if they say 'declined.' Only if it is accepted will they say use Plain English and say so.

But you have to remember that in officer-speak 'received' also means got it and did nothing but shove it on the shelf. So sometimes it means shelved and sometimes it means declined. Now you know. Certainty is such a wonderful thing.

Let the dancing begin.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

GETTING A STRONGER VOICE WITH AUCKLAND

Some islanders worry that if we were with Thames-Coromandel District Council (TCDC) for our local governance instead of Auckland City Council (ACC) we would have no say in any Auckland matters that affected us. They are worrying unnecessarily. That is already well covered in law and in the reorganisation proposal.

First, under the mandatory Principles of Local Government laid down in section 14 of the Local Government Act 2002, we have section 14(1)(e): 'A local authority should collaborate and co-operate with other local authorities and bodies as it considers appropriate to promote or achieve its priorities and desired outcomes, and make efficient use of resources'. Local authorities must also 'promote the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of communities, now and for the future' (section 10). So doing something against our well-being is against the law, and councils should collaborate and co-operate to that end.

Second, we would have a much stronger voice with an Auckland authority if we were with Thames-Coromandel, because instead of a kneecapped community board and a lone, patronised Auckland councillor trying to get the attention of The Machine we would have a full council speaking for us, in council to council negotiations--TCDC talking to ACC or ARC, or whatever will be there from 2011 onwards. Or we would have a combination of TCDC and EW talking to them (EW is Environment Waikato, the regional council for Thames-Coromandel, which in spite of its name reaches to the top of the peninsula, covers the Hauraki Plains, and bounds the Auckland region at Franklin).

We would have a strong voice on TCDC, because we would have 23.3% of the vote (not the 2.3% we have with ACC or the smudge of 1% we would have with a Greater Auckland Council), and we would have three out of twelve councillors on a council that really does consult and listen. On top of that the reorganisation proposal (http://waihekenotes.blogspot.com/2008/04/draft-reorganisation-proposal-for.html) also has the regional councillor, Simon Friar, sitting on both community boards, so both islands would have a direct line into our regional council, something we do not have now (Simon is deputy chair of the Finance & Audit Committee, a member of the Policy & Strategy Committee and the Regulatory Committee, and chair of the Regional Pest Management Committee--rats and other pests beware!).

Monday, 14 July 2008

AUCKLAND SHORT-CHANGES US ON ROADS

There are islanders who say that only the Auckland City Council has the money to keep our roads maintained. That is not correct. There is enough collected on the island in rates and charges to do what is needed, especially if millions were not carted off to the isthmus or wasted here. And if Auckland was not running things so ineptly we could get all the roading money from the government that we are entitled to, and it is doubly fair that we should because we are a tourist destination so we should get all the taxpayer subsidies on roading. But we are not.

Under Land Transport New Zealand's rules a 43% subsidy is available for maintenance and road renewal, and a 53% subsidy for new roads. But to get that your council has to make sure all its i's are dotted and its t's crossed, otherwise ratepayers will have to pay the whole cost. Auckland has not been serving us well, because over the last four years, on the figures it has supplied on a request under the Local Government Official Information & Meetings Act (LGOIMA), it has got the Hauraki Gulf Islands an average subsidy of only 16.43%.

Thames-Coromandel District Council does a far better job. The average subsidy from its last annual report, covering the last two years, was 42%.

If Auckland had been doing as well, it would have got the islands an extra $13.595 million. It didn't, so the ratepayers had to fork out that much more.

For Waiheke alone, from 2002/2003 to 2007/2008, they have to fork out an extra $4.310m, because Auckland got only $5.980 of subsidy when it should have got $10.295m (on figures supplied by Auckland under LGOIMA) if it too had been getting 42%.

The fact that Auckland's shonky management is depriving us of the full LTNZ subsidy also skews its expenditure figures for Waiheke. In 2006/2007 it collected $15.1 million off us and spent $19.6 million. But $2.45 million of that was our 'allocation' for 'governance'--i.e., what we paid, on top of the $1.7 million we paid for our own service centre, to prop up the empire over the water. On top of that we paid $614,000 to Auckland's roading and transport. That totals $3.1 million. Knock that off $19.6, and it comes down to $16.5, which would have made us only $1.4 million over income. But then it missed out on $1.1 million of Land Transport subsidy for us, so we should have been only $300,000 over breaking even. That would have been easy to save, because we could easily slice 10% off Auckland's wastage--i.e., $1.5 million--so we should have been quids in.

The more of Auckland's mediocre performance one uncovers the more one thinks that that outfit could not manage its way out of the proverbial wet paper-bag with the help of nuclear weapons and a squadron of bulldozers.

PHILIPPA BARRIBALL ON TCDC's RATES

Thames-Coromandel's mayor, Philippa Barriball, gave this summary of the rates system on her district: 'We have district rates and local rates, and the local rates are divided into the five wards. Each of those rates are collected using different tools, so that again is a division that creates even more varieties. We currently use land value, capital value and value of improvements. We also use separately-used-and-inhabited, fixed charges for the district, fixed charges for the [community] board [area], targeted rate for all manner of things such as rubbish collection etc. Only 15% of the money we collect is from a value-based rate.'

Monday, 7 July 2008

AUCKLAND'S SHONKY ACCOUNTING

Waiheke should have ready access to the council's income and expenditure figures for the island. That would be the open and transparent democratic accountability demanded by the Local Government Act 2002. Our community board should be supplied with those figures, month by month, year by year, as a matter of course, otherwise it cannot fulfil its legal obligation to maintain an overview of council services here or prepare a meaningful annual submission for expenditure.

But the figures are not supplied, and getting them is difficult and time-consuming. You cannot, even if you are a member of the community board, just telephone or send an email. You have to prise them out of The Machine using the Local Government Official Information & Meetings Act (LGOIMA--pronounced 'ligoymah'). But even under force of law Auckland doesn't jump to attention. You are unlikely to get what you ask for within the 20 working days laid down in the law, and then you will probably have to ask for detail. So you go round the wearisome loop several times to get what you should have got in nothing flat, and even then the figures have to be regarded with deep suspicion. The reason is obvious: Auckland does not do good accounting.

I recently asked, under LGOIMA of course for figures that included the 2007/2008 cost of running the council's service centre on the island. All I got was a lump sum for 'overhead,' a lump so large that it was unbelievable: $7,475,489! I asked, again under LGOIMA, for detail, only to be told 'Auckland City does not manage its business or record costs on a geographical area, island or ward basis'; all they do is 'apportion' 'a share to the island of expenditures.'

When Gulf News put itself through the LGOIMA grinder last year, Auckland finally admitted the cost of running our service centre, saying it was $1.658 million in 2006/2007 (up from $1.601 million the year before), so we can assume that in 2007/2008 it was really about $1.7 million. Then they also gave our allocation in 2006/2007 for 'city governance and operations' as $2.443 million and our allocation for isthmus roading and transport as $0.614 million, which made the total enforced contribution to the isthmus of $3.057 (aren't we kind?). That plus the $1.658 million for the service centre made a total for the island's administrative overheads of $4.715 million in 2006/2007.

Now, suddenly, in 2007/2008 that has soared to $7,474,489. I believe it. I do, I do, I do. Would Auckland put me wrong? I also believe in the tooth-fairy, little green men on the moon, Robert Mugabe's halo, and Auckland's valuation of my property.

Where there is not good accounting there cannot be good management. Where is there is not good management there cannot be good local government. Auckland's accounting, management and government are so much wastewater.

Thames-Coromandel District Council, in marked contrast, readily gives comprehensive information. It has a clear, detailed annual report; it provides data to its community boards, which do the budgets for their wards, even setting local rates; and anything not published or provided as a matter of course is speedily available on a phone-call or an email. There is no need to use the heavy weaponry of LGOIMA. TCDC can give the information because it collects it. And even if you ask it for something out of the ordinary, something it does not need to collect, its staff will get it for you--evens within the hour.

If we were under TCDC our contribution to the common administration would be no more than $1.8 million--considerably less than the $7,474,489 'allocated' us by Auckland, or even the far more trustworthy $3.057 million that they finally admitted to under pressure last year. That would give us another $1.2 million to play with, and we could easily make savings of 10% on Auckland's profligate expenditure, which would give us at least another $1.7 million. We would therefore have about $3 million more available, on those two savings alone.