February 15, 2008

Local potentates on last legs?

Local government issues and governance are a bit of bore in most people's minds but I do take a more than passing interest because it affects my pocket book as a ratepayer and taxpayer, and I find power structures, democratic developments and self-governance issues (let alone my obsession with small states) interesting.
If you are not in New Zealand you probably think that Auckland is this big town with city aspirations, but in reality it's a collection of local fiefdoms (4 city councils and two district councils, towered over by a regional council, and supported by a gaggle of local community boards - including the Waiheke Island one).
The Government now has set up a Royal Commission to look at future governance structures for the whole region and residents, boards and City councils can make submissions.
One of our local board members, Nobilangelo Ceramalus, whom I voted for on the strength of his name alone (call me shallow, but call me), has launched a one-man campaign to try to convince islanders to switch local government from Auckland City to the Thames-Coromandel District Council, a peninsula about 20km east of Waiheke, and populated by an assortment of (summertime) rich listers, hippies and bushmen. He claims Waihekeans have far more in common with those folk than with the urbanites across the water to the west. The Waiheke Gulf News reports:
He believes that as a community we have more in common with Thames-Coromandel and would be better served by it than the current regime. “Islands are places apart, islanders are people apart,” he says.
“They march to the beat of very different drums. Mainlanders, especially the city sort, are what they are. But when they dominate our lives the result is 'ouch!' Such as in the infamous proposed Hauraki Gulf' District Plan being rammed down our throats.
“They might, for a time, shower money on us, but we pay a high price for it. We lose our independence. And when the city is heading for a mega-city, and thinks it can be 'a world-class city', the tune is one that no one sane would call music.”
The rest of the community board members, and both the current and former Gulf Councillor have all poured cold water on the idea, criticising the timing, his lack of consultation with colleagues and the suspicion, backed up by some facts, that the Coromandel hippies need Waiheke money more than vice versa.
All fun and games at future board meetings, no doubt, but it's good to hear ideas out of leftfield because the whole governance issue is a live debate for islanders fed up with lack of control, being sucked dry by city bureaucrats and never have any say on what goes on or what should be done on the island.
It's a pity we can't have our County Council back unless we have 10,000 residents (at the last census we barely made it to 8,000) so for the time being we have to deal with Babylon-Across-The-Sea that is Auckland City Council. So I will make a submission to the Royal Commission along these lines:
- The Auckland Regional Council should become a geographical entity that will be known as Auckland around the world. The current city and district councils should be abolished and their competences transferred upwards to the new ARC (regional planning, dealing with Government and overseas) or regional entities responsible for water, sewage, infrastructure and culture - or devolved downwards to the beefed up community boards who should become responsible for local planning issues and all localised matters.
- Local government finances: rates and other property taxes should be abolished. The community boards and the ARC should be financed from a portion of the income and business taxes paid to the national Government: say, 2 percent of your gross tax should be transferred to the local board where the taxpayer resides, plus, say 1 percent of locally generated GST should be refunded to the boards and council - rather than setting up a local sales tax. This would spread the tax base of local authorities far wider and more equitably than the current system, and those percentages should be set locally with Government setting the ceiling. These new transfers would offset any current central Government subsidies for local governments and are easy to administer and transparent for payers and receivers. In essence, local government funding would be done completely from the national tax take instead of local authorities constantly pushing up local rates (which also push inflation), cut out a massive layer of bureaucracy and local authorities would be forced to live more frugally and work smarter with far more control, input and oversight of local citizens.

UPDATE: Waiheke Island now has its own site to make, collate and discuss submissions to the Royal Commission.

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