February 19, 2005

Auckland and Waiheke Island politics

This week's prize for stupidest political comment goes to Waiheke Island Community Board Member Herb Romaniuk, who, in his criticism of the proposed rate rise by Auckland City Council, said (I paraphrase the report in island newspaper Waiheke Week):
"This Council has a hidden political agenda."
Well hello, Earth to Herb? Councillors, representatives, elections, policies, politics, campaigning, manifestos: do they not ring any bells? What does Mr Romaniuk think Councillors should do instead of having political agendas? Let me guess: being part shareholder in developments unwanted by the locals.
The proposed rates rise of 11% is of course an outrage, but then a taxation system based on a feudal relic that lays a levy on the amount of land and/or the dwelling you own is a priori dodgy.
So this is what we'll do:

Hon. Chris Carter
Minister of Local Government
Government Buildings, Wellington

Dear Chris,

I am sure you are being inundated with protests by outraged citizens re: the proposed rate hikes in the wind in Auckland City and most probably elsewhere too. The Auckland City Council is currently controlled by your philosophical allies City Vision, so you may not in principle object to much of what they propose (even though it was not exactly spelled out in their manifesto, Candidate Hucker said rates increases should not go over a few percentage points on top of inflation, while Mayoral Candidate Dick Hubbard didn't commit himself at all), but rumblings in the suburbs, and on our island, are biding Labour ill for the upcoming national elections and that should be of concern to you.
As Minister of Local Government, why don't you put your thinking cap on, and try to unravel this unholy mess that the property tax system to finance local government has become. Surely a more rational, equitable and plain simpler system is imaginable and politically realisable?
How about a local income tax system, where a percentage of the local income tax take gets transferred back to the local government, say, 1 or 2%, or even a percentage of the local GST take mixed in with it. This is much more affordable for people who live on fixed incomes but find themselves rated out of their homes due to relentless revaluation of their property upwards by the local authority.
For a country of only 4 million people I find it curious that there is such a huge amount of local government (regional and district councils, city councils, community boards) with its attendant raft of politicians and bureaucracies. Why are local services not organised nationally with the advantage of economies of scale, such as roading (which should all be in the care of Transit NZ and not divided up between state highway and local pothole maintenance) and a host of other council activities that could either be locally privatised or nationalised or abolished altogether such as housing, cultural festival subsidies, parks and commercial activities such as parking buildings.
By all means, keep the community boards at the lowest level to transmit local concerns and wishes, to consult with when larger infrastructure is proposed and to allow control over local planning.
Change in this area would be be a worthy legacy of your time as Minister of Local Government.

UPDATE Monday 21 Feb: Fraser Colegrave from Covec made the same point, but more eloquently, in this morning's Herald.

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