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Thursday, 19 February 2009

MALICE NOT MATHS

A malicious rumour being put about by the small-but-nasty tribe says that if the Local Government Commission rules in favour of transferring the Hauraki Gulf Islands to Thames-Coromandel District Council the changeover would cost us $2 million.

Bunkum!

Those responsible for that fiction are obviously no good at simple arithmetic, and know nothing relevant about computer systems. Nowadays office information is held on computers; and council information centres on property records. There are 7843 properties on the islands (occupied by 8648 people and several hundred dogs), so what the malicious are saying is that it would cost $255 to copy and reformat each computerised property record. That means that if all that fictitious work were done manually by people on the average income--$40,000 or $153 a day--it would take a day and half to convert each record, which would add up to a staggering 13,000 man-days of work--i.e., 54 years of slog for one person or 5.4 years for ten people.

That may look real on some weird planet where they worship the Tooth Fairy, eat their left feet and drink nitric acid. But back here in the real world (where my career includes being computer manager for a local body and systems executive for a large company), that would not be how the conversion would be done. Most of it would be done at computer-speed by computers, not at snail-speed by people. Which means it would not take years or cost millions.

I have had a quotation for one of the most difficult bits, and it would take only two or three days at $1250 a day--a maximum of $3750. Other parts of the conversion would cost the same sort of money, because all you need to do is get a copy of the data on a disk (and a few thousand records is a trivial number for a computer), then you run them through small, easily-written programs to change the format from the one used by Auckland to the one used by Thames-Coromandel. There would also need to be some manual data-entry to fill any gaps, but even if every bit of the entire 7843 property records had to be entered, which would certainly not be the case, that would take only days for a handful of moderately competent operators being paid $15-20 an hour. A fast operator, such as I have employed, can do 27,000 keystrokes an hour.

The staff in the islands' service centres would need some retraining, but even if twenty-five people each spent a week in Thames living in a hotel at $200 a day, plus travel expenses of $100 each, that would be only $27,500.

In short, the total cost of the changeover would be in the tens of thousands not the millions. But if Auckland did try to flim-flam us by charging fifty alien arms and thirty-two liddle green legs for those disk-copies we could drag it before the Auditor-General and/or the Ombudsmen, and the officers responsible could be haled into the District Court under the Local Government Act 2002 and each fined up to $5000.

Once the changeover to Thames-Coromandel was complete, the latest figures supplied by Auckland show that we would save $3.92 million a year in our allocation to the council's central running-costs ($5.732m-$1.8m), which works out at $16,333 a working day, so the exercise would rapidly pay for itself. For example, if it cost $70,000 it would pay for itself in just four days, or in eight days if it were $140,000--so even that fictitious $2m pricetag would pay for itself in four months.

The nasties are also overlooking another piece of simple arithmetic. If their malicious rumour were true, and a changeover for 8628 islanders to Thames-Coromandel really was going to cost $2 million, then it would also be true that a changeover for 1.4 million mainlanders to the Supercilious City would cost $325 million. Which underlines the falsity of their rumour.

As Victor Hugo said: 'The malicious have a dark happiness.'