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Priorities, and spending

by Ray Chung
Who’s concerned about possible rates increases of around 23% that were being discussed at a Wellington City Council workshop in November? Yes, I know that our water pipes need repairing, and the LGWM proposal hasn’t been moving. But it appears that the council doesn’t want to talk about this anymore.

Is there a Plan B for addressing Wellington’s traffic issues? Is the council putting pressure on central government to help finance infrastructure projects? The council has increased its borrowing by $172 million, but where’s this money going?

Why is this council not considering the priorities for Wellington and what we can afford? The list of existing projects is already so long and includes the Conference Centre, the Central Library, strengthening the Town Hall and the St James Theatre, and bicycle paths including the Cobham Drive one that seems to be taking forever. With so many large and expensive projects, why is the council still acting as if it’s business as usual with some councillors looking for new ways of spending money as if they’ve discovered a money tree?

Councillors voted to strengthen the Central Library even though 42% of submissions voted to demolish and rebuild vs. 31% to strengthen the building. I wrote a submission suggesting that the council consider selling the land to a private developer on the proviso that the lower floors were leased back in perpetuity for the new library. The developer could have then developed the remainder of the building for mixed use with a combination of apartments and commercial offices. This would have saved the council from getting involved with a building project estimated to cost between $161.7m-$178.7m – when, based on recent experience of the Town Hall and the St. James, there’s a propensity to run over budget.

This option would have had the added benefit of not requiring any capital expense and would have been funded from cash flow in addition to attracting rates from the rest of the new building.

Then we have Jill Day proposing to pay iwi members to attend council sub-committee meetings when they’ve had an open invitation to attend these meetings for 12 years but have only attended one, when Shelly Bay was discussed. Not to be outdone, Rebecca Matthews and Tamatha Paul, neither of whom are ratepayers, propose setting up a rainbow advisory focus group paid by ratepayers to become involved in council decision-making. This proposal, supported by Jill Day and Fleur Fitzsimons, aims to get earlier involvement in council processes to influence and shape what happens. Day states that homelessness for transgenders is a concern, as are gender-neutral public toilets and changing rooms. Yet it seems to me that every public toilet I’ve seen in Wellington has a logo of a man, woman and child on the doors. Aren’t they open to everyone and isn’t that the meaning of the word “public?” Doesn’t homelessness affect many people, so why has this issue been made specific to one group?

Sure, I acknowledge that these projects are small compared to the huge council budget, as one councillor is fond of telling me. But councillors should be looking at ways of economising, not embarking on a spending spree.

The NZ Herald reports that there are 70,000 more people struggling to make ends meet in 2020 and many of these are retirees on fixed superannuation/income who could be forced to sell their homes if they can’t pay the annual rates increases. Notably, in the 2018 Nielsen Quality of Life survey, only 46% of people said they had enough money to meet their everyday needs.

I recall some years ago that Rodney Hide, when he was minister for Local Government, was tasked with analysing why local Council rates were increasing at far greater rates than inflation, and he worked on capping these increases to inflation. Unfortunately, this was never completed. It’s time to raise this again with central government, together with a discussion on compensation for all the regulatory responsibility that central government is imposing such as enforcing the SNA debacle (Significant Natural Area) where councils are trying to re-designate private property without compensation to property owners.

The WCC budget continues to increase with civil servants’ salaries increasing 13% in 2020. In a recent report on Stuff, WCC staff said they had $50 million in a jam jar earmarked for the installation of water meters. How many other jam jars does the council have, to be used on undisclosed and unapproved projects? They should be identified and released so these funds can be used on priority projects and not individual councillors’ vanity projects.

What incentive is there for the WCC to increase efficiency and watch their spending? It seems to me that whatever the council or councillors want to spend money on just gets added to the budgets with an attitude that these costs will just get lumped on to the rates.

The council needs to do what people who are unable to meet their everyday needs do – that is, take a serious look at cutting the “nice to haves” and avoid borrowing simply because interest rates are low. All this new borrowing will saddle current and future generations with repaying this debt. At the very least, the council should implement a staff ceiling level and salary freeze.

There’s currently consultation on “Planning for Growth” and the Draft Spatial Plan, but we need to have accurate projections in the 30-year plan on what these will cost. The forecast 50,000-80,000 population increase touted by the council has been challenged as inaccurate and will be lower with reduced immigration and changed employment prospects, but whatever the figure is, we should embrace it as an opportunity to increase productivity in Wellington.

The biggest problem with the city council is that most, not all of them, are ill-prepared in experience or training to be effective councillors, so they fall back to making decisions on ideology. Councillors are equivalent to company board directors. To be effective, they need to have business experience, not just ideals. Councillors would be more effective if they had experience of Business Plans, Balance Sheets, ROI (Return on Investment) and basic accounting.

Ray Chung is vice-president of the Onslow Residents and Community Association.

NZ Herald: Growing dissatisfaction with city council decision-making

50 comments:

  1. Michael Gibson, 8. January 2021, 9:57

    Ray Chung should be made a Councillor as soon as possible. I can only hope that Grant Robertson will not again try to influence Council elections by using Labour Party letter-head to bring party politics to the Council table.

     
  2. Ben, 8. January 2021, 11:06

    I think that the council should review their projects. I would argue that the water pipes are more important than a cycleway. Why are we not holding the building contractors accountable for overspends or delays? If this was a house renovation, you would be calling the project manager or the builder and asking what’s going on.
    In a cash-strapped year that 2020 became for so many, a 23% increase in rates would show how removed the council are from reality. Either the council should actually do real business or step aside for those who have the skills and enthusiasm to help improve Wellington.

     
  3. Alain, 8. January 2021, 13:36

    Well said, Ray. A set of councillors more interested in undermining the mayor and playing to up to their little echo chamber on Twitter than governing.

     
  4. Conor, 8. January 2021, 13:49

    Ray – the main reason rates increases are so high is because of our obsession with Greenfield growth rather than suburban intensification. Greenfield growth has infrastructure costs around 3 times as much as allowing apartments or townhouses in existing suburbs. I’d suggest focusing on this big issue rather than micro projects.

     
  5. Piripi Thomas, 8. January 2021, 14:39

    While I agree with Michael Gibson that Ray Chung would be ideal as a Wellington city councillor, this is unlikely to happen. A quick read of his excellent article indicates that he is far too intelligent, results-oriented, experienced and practical to appeal to the drongos who voted in the current shower.

     
  6. Claire, 8. January 2021, 14:45

    Conor: is Shelly Bay a greenfield?
    Ray: good points made especially around the lack of expertise.

     
  7. Ray Chung, 8. January 2021, 14:59

    Happy New Year Conor! We haven’t touched base for a while. I wouldn’t agree that this is the reason why rates are so high. We (ORCA – Onslow Residents and Community Association) sent in submissions to the Planning for Growth consultations and supported a combination of all four options. As is typical of the council, these submissions were ignored but in fact, the council hasn’t spent anything on greenfield developments and going with intensification in the CBD and suburbs isn’t the reason for rates increasing either because they haven’t spent any money on these yet. Under the District Plan, any developers opening up greenfield sites are obliged to pay for the infrastructure costs so again, this will result in more rates for the council. But it isn’t happening, just look at the potential costs for infrastructure for the proposed Shelly Bay development! Ian Cassels should pay the full cost of the improved infrastructure for this development as he’s the one who will profit from it. Andy Foster said the same thing as you, that greenfields development will cost three times the amount as intensifying the CBD and suburbs. Without a doubt, I agree that intensifying parts of the CBD is a great idea! Did you see the Grand Designs programme where first home-owners built a multi-storey apartment block in the Auckland CBD and they look great and fit in well! We asked Andy for the metadata showing that developing greenfield sites is three times the cost of intensification but haven’t received this yet.

     
  8. Ray Chung, 8. January 2021, 15:07

    Conor, no Shelly Bay isn’t a greenfield site, my point was your mentioning that greenfield developments cost three times the cost of intensification. Ratepayers have been committed to paying millions to improve the infrastructure along Shelly Bay Road through to Miramar Avenue. You mentioned that greenfield development will cost ratepayers three times as much as intensification, but I’m saying that the developers should be paying for this, not ratepayers. Hence questioning how it’s going to cost three times as much and how this can be the reason for a huge rate increase.

     
  9. John, 8. January 2021, 15:18

    Conor, may I suggest that you go and look at the breakdown of your rates. That will help you in your arguments on massive increases. Our utilities are suffering from decades of neglect and now a substantial increase in loads from urban intensification.

     
  10. greenwelly, 8. January 2021, 15:59

    @Conor, The Council already charge you more for greenfield growth than existing intensification via development contributions. It’ll cost you 10K for a new place in Stebbings Valley, vs 3K in Tawa and 7K in Adelaide Road. Now assuming these are set at the right differentials, it should make no difference to existing ratepayers where growth happens.

     
  11. Conor, 8. January 2021, 17:38

    Greenwelly – that’s all well and good, but the costs are around 150k for a house on a greenfield section. I suggest reading this report, graph of particular note is on p. 53. Also for you Ray, and probably what Foster was referring to.

    Claire – Shelly Bay was done outside of standard procedures as a Special Housing Area.

     
  12. I blame remuera, 8. January 2021, 18:31

    The investments that are needed, for pipes amongst other things, can no longer be deferred as they have been time and time again so councilors can keep rates increases down and the residents associations happy. The residents associations vote for dodgy council candidates making spurious claims that the rates can be kept down for decades. The bill for necessary infrastructure investment can no longer be put off, and the residents associations are largely the ones to blame. The infrastructure a city needs is not cheap. If you insist on everyone living in a low rise detached house on a big section, you get lots of expensive infrastructure serving relatively few people.

    The actual dollar cost of the the “frivolities” everyone complains about are a drop in the bucket next to overstretched essential infrastructure. If you pick the dodgy cheap option you get dodgy cheap results plain and simple.

     
  13. Hel, 8. January 2021, 19:57

    You might be forgiven for thinking that a potential rates increase of 23% would have resulted in an incredible effort to drive out unnecessary costs, defer non essential capital investment and generally be more efficient.

    I just don’t think we have Councillors with the will to push back on the executive and tell them it simply isn’t good enough. Similarly I don’t think we are blessed with a great deal of will within the executive to take on the challenges.

    I am sadly resigned to getting a rates increase of around 15% with Council crowing about how hard they worked to deliver this outcome and how it could have been much worse.

     
  14. TrevorH, 9. January 2021, 6:54

    @I blame remuera: Yes money is needed to renew the pipes, but the problem we face appears to be that the funds set aside for depreciation of the system were not spent on the 3 waters but on other projects. Mayor Foster acknowledged this in an article on 11 December published on Wellington.Scoop. So far there has been no information on what those other projects were and who took the decision to divert money earmarked for the 3 waters. Perhaps an OIA request is necessary to flush this important information out?

     
  15. michael, 9. January 2021, 11:09

    An across-the-board External Review is needed to determine what has gone on and to decide if there is a need for commissioners to replace the council. Otherwise, all we are going to get is more inaction on the council’s basic responsibilities, and continuing rates blow-outs to pay for the results.

     
  16. Michael Gibson, 9. January 2021, 13:06

    michael – on November 23rd I wrote to Nanaia Mahuta as follows:
    “Dear Minister – in the light of the persistent public disturbance and the national news interest regarding Wellington’s Shelly Bay, I ask you to assist by using your powers under S. 257 of the Local Government Act 2002 to seek all relevant information with a view to the possible appointment of a Crown Review team under S. 258 of the Act. One of my concerns is whether any former elected official of the Council or former or present officer is or has been in thraldom to a developer – see the formal complaint below which I have just delivered to the Audit Office.” The Minister replied to say that her using her statutory powers to get a report on the subject would be an “intervention” and she would therefore not even do this in order to see if there was “a need for commissioners to replace the council.” N. B. to everybody: No harm in writing to her on the subject!

     
  17. D'Esterre, 9. January 2021, 15:00

    With the exception of the Library issue, I agree with everything Ray says above. Regarding the library, we ratepayers were misinformed both about its condition and about the amount of money required to fix the floors. There was no reason for the Library to have been closed in the first place.

    “….proposing to pay iwi members to attend council sub-committee meetings…” I am very concerned at this. It’s a priori undemocratic: we ratepayers aren’t paid to attend such meetings. There’s potential for corruption in such a proposal.

    “…setting up a rainbow advisory focus group paid by ratepayers to become involved in council decision-making.” I have the same worries about this proposal. There’s potential for corruption: it looks as if the Councillors pushing it haven’t thought the issue through.

    Michael Gibson: “Ray Chung should be made a Councillor…” I agree. Certainly not my fault that he wasn’t elected last year.

    “I can only hope that Grant Robertson will not again try to influence Council elections by using Labour Party letter-head…..” And a computerised ring-around, as happened in this ward. National politics has no place in local authorities.

     
  18. Toni, 9. January 2021, 16:40

    Absolutely agree D’Esterre. I am sick of politics in local government and sick of councillors ignoring the calls to get back to basics and sort out the mess. Mind you, I am not sure they have the ability to do this, so instead they spend their energy and time pushing their pet projects. Most probably why the council has been advertising for a creative storyteller to help justify their “very important personal” agendas.

     
  19. D'Esterre, 9. January 2021, 20:20

    Toni: ” …a creative storyteller… “ Haha! Really, you couldn’t make this stuff up, could you. I’m reminded of the maxim which applied when I was in the public service, many years ago. It said (more or less): don’t propose anything that you wouldn’t be happy to see on the network news. I cannot see how anyone could defend this with a straight face.

     
  20. Claire, 10. January 2021, 12:30

    I will for one be very careful who I vote for in the next round of council elections. I will vote for an independent candidate who is not spouting ideology such as the Yimby pro-debt movement. Or even with too hard left or right leanings. And for someone who has a level of mature expertise and some experience in governance. Of course some progression and change always is needed. But lurching around in aggressive ideology, without taking the general experience and complexity of the real world into account is juvenile. The job is about working for Wellingtonians and representing them, not working for your own agenda and yourself.

     
  21. Local., 10. January 2021, 17:44

    You can’t keep ‘politics’ out of the Council. What does that mean? Councils are made up of democratically elected people, some who declare their political allegiance and some who do not. I think we should know what political membership aspiring and existing councillors have. Could Ray tell us whether he is a member of a political party?

     
  22. Marion Leader, 11. January 2021, 9:08

    Local, I agree that Councils are political. However Ray’s personal qualities speak for themselves whereas the election letter from Grant Robertson only spoke about how much various candidates had done for the Labour Party and how much he liked them.

     
  23. D'Esterre, 11. January 2021, 12:29

    Local: “You can’t keep ‘politics’ out of the Council.” In the comments on this topic, there’s been a bit of ellipsis. When I refer to “national politics”, I’m talking about party politics, as in parliament-style. Hence reference to what Grant Robertson did prior to the 2019 local authority elections, so as to get Labour party members elected. He sent out “vote-for-our-candidates” letters, along with a computerised ring-around (at least in this ward).

    Councillors can have any political beliefs they like. That’s not really the issue: the problem is with candidates who are members of political parties and who come to the Council with a particular agenda, which they are apparently determined to pursue. We need that in Wellington like we need toothache.

    Marion Leader: “…the election letter from Grant Robertson only spoke about how much various candidates had done for the Labour Party and how much he liked them.” Indeed. That was pretty much the tenor of what was said in the phone calls (having at that stage had two landlines, we got the call twice). We were unimpressed.

     
  24. Ray Chung, 11. January 2021, 21:49

    Hi Marion, Local, D’Esterre and I blame Remuera. I’ll try to answer all your questions and comments but if I miss any, it’s unintentional and please feel free to ask me any questions again.

    D’Esterre, I have never belonged to any political party ever and don’t follow any particular party’s doctrine now. There are policies that I like in some political parties but generally, I don’t agree with or support all of their manifestos. I’ve been asked where I sit on the political spectrum to which I usually answer, ask me a question and I’ll answer it and you decide where you think I fit.

    I blame Remuera, I don’t understand why you consider Residents Associations are to blame for the infrastructure not being repaired and maintained. Four of us established ORCA, (Onslow Residents and Community Association) encompassing Khandallah, Broadmeadows and Kaiwharawhara four years ago, two from Khandallah and two of us from Broadmeadows. I’ve been the VP since we were established and I’m the sole founding member left on the committee. We like to think we’ve accomplished a lot in our bailiwick including getting comprehensive improvements in the bus service and getting the GWRC and WCC to install additional bus stops where before these, residents had to walk up to one kilometre to the nearest bus stop. We’ve convinced WCC to install new lampposts where there were pitch black areas between the lights and especially when the sodium vapour lights were replaced by LEDs. We’ve never advocated for or discussed rates or rate increases as that’s not in our mandate. This is my personal view based on many decades of being in business.
    I consider there are many, many inefficiencies and dare I say, incompetent people in both the WCC and in the Council. The Miramar BID invited me to join their group and I found that many people in the Council act and vote according to their ideology. I’m vociferous about central politics having no place in Local Body politics! In a recent vote, one councillor did a u-turn and changed her vote. When asked by another councillor why she voted that way and did she not read the briefing papers, that councillor replied that there was no point in reading them because she was told how to vote by their group!
    I made an oral submission on the Central Library where Jill Day as the chairwoman told me that the council doesn’t like selling any of their property because they don’t own much, but then weeks later she voted to sell the council land at Shelley Bay. I mentioned that I’m the only founding member left on ORCA partially because there’s a heavy demand on our time and especially when three of us, including me, are working full-time jobs. But it seems to me that you have a different view of Residents Associations? May I ask what suburb you live in? If you live in Khandallah, Broadmeadows or Kaiwharawhara, please feel free to discuss any of your concerns with me and I’ll try to help. In accordance with our ORCA constitution, members of the executive committee aren’t permitted to stand for the same role more than four years so at the next AGM, I won’t stand for VP but will run for a different position. I presently head the Building and Infrastructure subcommittee in ORCA and would welcome any help to lighten our work load.
    Marion, did you ask what my experience was or was that someone else? I started my working career as a telecommunications engineer, moving to marketing with degrees in Marketing and International Business and have worked for multinational American, British and German companies as well as NZ companies in business and sales.
    Local, I believe that all political agendas have no place in Local Body government. Councillors should be elected to do their very best for ratepayers and residents. Not follow the orders or ideology of some political party. The very first time I voted in the local body when I was 18, I read through the candidate bios and voted for the candidate who said he was going to clear the sewage out of Wellington Harbour. Sadly, he only received 329 votes and didn’t get elected. But my belief hasn’t wavered in what I think councillors should be doing and it saddens and frustrates me when many, not all, treat being in council as a big game and collect their stipend for very little intelligent output!

     
  25. Concerned Wellingtonian, 12. January 2021, 8:55

    Ray, you mention that a “councillor (said) there was no point in reading (Council reports) because she was told how to vote by their group.” I admire your discretion in not mentioning the name of the Councillor. But I would like to know who it was so that I can try and work out who else was in her “group”. Please tell.

     
  26. Local, 12. January 2021, 11:28

    Thanks Ray for some clarification and to the others.
    I think this is an important discussion. Everyone has values, even those who profess not to have … some know and express them honestly and openly; some express them by declaring their political allegiance and membership. Not one councillor should be ‘whipped’ by any central govt politician nor have they been?
    As for the last election – seems Grant’s letter, which most of us knew nothing about, did not help the mayoral election.

     
  27. Ray Chung, 12. January 2021, 11:57

    Hi “Concerned Wellingtonian”. I’m very wary of “naming and shaming” people on public websites and when I was drafting this article, I had some people commenting on the fact that by naming councillors who I consider are not looking after the interests of ratepayers but pandering to their own egos and agendas, I’ll be alienating them. But my opposing argument is that if you don’t name them, what’s the point of even mentioning it and saying something like, “some councillors aren’t there to help people.” So what I do is gain references of where this information was obtained, and you’ll be able to corroborate these statements off Stuff, NZ Herald, Newstalk and other media. I’m also a prolific writer to the DomPost and have noticed there are others who don’t corroborate their statements but make comments based on “false news” or figments of their imagination. So I’m careful to avoid making any statements that can’t be corroborated or substantiated. I’m also careful to respect those who pass me information and not disclose this unless they gave me specific permission. Can I ask what suburb you live in or what council Ward? I’m happy to chat with you about some of the shenanigans that go on in council but it might put you off your breakfast! ORCA is organising a community picnic at Khandallah Park in Woodmancote Road next month on the 20th or 27th and we’re meeting to discuss this on Wednesday so I don’t know what date we’ve firmed up on yet but please feel free to come along and have a chat with me. I’ll be manning the sausage sizzle so I might ask you to buy a sausage off us first! Haha!

    By the way, in the interests of full disclosure, I am not a member of any political party but I do have a strong belief in doing the “right thing” and treating everyone equally fairly.

    This specific instance came up after the vote was taken and I took care after being told to corroborate this with another councillor who also heard this. To name this councillor, in all fairness, I’ll have to ask the two councillors who told me if I can share this information. As I’m sure you’ll understand that I need to respect their confidentiality.

     
  28. Ray Chung, 12. January 2021, 13:57

    Hi Local, yes, I agree and am a firm believer in either Voltaire or Evelyn Beatrice Hall who said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it!” Yes, everyone is entitled to their views and political orientation but I just wish that these were out in the open. Grant Robertson sent thousands of letters to residents promoting Labour candidates and according to Electoral Commission rules, he should have declared the cost of this promotion as a political donation.

     
  29. Ray Chung, 12. January 2021, 14:38

    Conor, many thanks for the link to Deloitte’s document on development costs and also for pointing out the relevant page number for Greenfield developments. I have read page 53 pertaining to the additional costs of developing Greenfield sites but this doesn’t help your argument that the development of Greenfield sites is to blame, even partially, for the exponential increase in rates. The WCC has not been developing any Greenfield sites but has put a discussion document out on Upper Stebbings Valley and Glenside East. As this document states, the developer pays for most of the costs of these developments. It’s my viewpoint that this should be the preferred option for council officers to negotiate with developers but again in my view, council officers haven’t displayed very much skill in negotiation with developers – take the Shelley Bay project where it may cost ratepayers millions to improve the infrastructure while the developer makes all the profit. What this document doesn’t state is the benefit to the city as they’ll be collecting rates on all the new developments in addition to having a planned modern development built to current standards. So all in all, I’m still in favour of having a mixture of all four of the options in the WCC Planning for Growth document.

     
  30. Patrick Morgan, 13. January 2021, 11:50

    “Not to be outdone, Rebecca Matthews and Tamatha Paul, neither of whom are ratepayers, propose …” Why is this relevant, Ray? It’s not even accurate – all residents contribute.
    And besides, everyone in our community is part of our city, regardless of their ability to pay.

     
  31. Ms Green, 13. January 2021, 15:22

    Ray, you are not correct. First of all the WCC does not develop sites in the northern suburbs, private developers do, but the Council makes the rules through the District Plan. The Council has allowed atrocious greenfield development in Churton Park, some in Tawa without any regard to sensible house sizes, (far too big and expensive, with total disregard for the environment – no water-sensitive plans, no requirements for water tanks or recycling of grey water, inadequate open public green space lots of hard concrete/asphalt etc., streams piped etc.) On top of this at least one developer has been land banking there for years.

    I could say much more but if this is going to be the end result of releasing more land at the cost of the environment and climate change, we have achieved expensive too big houses at the cost of the environment and achieved little for those who need modest and adequate homes or for future generations.

     
  32. Ray Chung, 13. January 2021, 15:24

    Hi Patrick, my logic is that because they’re not ratepayers, they don’t understand the effect huge rate increases will have on those who do pay rates. Perhaps they know how much existing rates are, perhaps they don’t? If they were paying rates, they’d immediately know. My statement is correct, they don’t pay rates directly to the WCC. Perhaps their landlords integrate the cost of rates into their rent but the same logic applies, they don’t know how much of their rent is the cost of the rates. I’m not saying or implying that all members of our community aren’t part of our city, quite the opposite. Some of our ORCA members aren’t ratepayers but we treat everyone with equality and we help people even if they’re not ORCA members.

     
  33. Ray Chung, 13. January 2021, 18:04

    Hi Ms Green. The Council certainly do not follow the District Plan. We, both under ORCA and personally, have objected to the WCC approving multiple units on a single section that is poorly suited to them with the worst examples in Monowai Road in Johnsonville where 16 units were approved on a single section where the common driveway is so steep that cars can’t drive on it in winter when it ices over. The most recent objection: 47 residents lodged an objection to four units in Kanpur Road on a hairpin corner where there’s no parking. So I’m definitely with you in trying to get the Council Planners to stick to the District Plan but they seem to be a law to themselves. It’s the council who allow the developers carte blanche to do whatever they like! I’ve spoken with councillors about this but they say they’re unable to interfere in what council planners do and they can only talk to the CEO. Last year we requested a meeting with Liam Hodgetts, the WCC Chief Planning Officer, to discuss all the deviations from the District Plan but to date, we haven’t been given a meeting time. We met David Chick, the previous Chief Planning Manager, but he wanted greater intensification. I’m happy to look at the developments in Churton Park and Tawa with Darren Bottin, the president of Johnsonville Association and the Tawa Residents Association, if you can give me the streets and areas that you object to. I’m meeting the Council on Friday so happy to bring this up if you can give me the areas and why you oppose them. Very happy to work with the Johnsonville and Tawa residents associations to resolve this.

     
  34. Ray Chung, 13. January 2021, 18:34

    Hi again Ms. Green. I omitted to mention that under the District Plan, two housing units are a permitted activity on a single section but the council allows greater numbers of these as mentioned previously. When there are deviations from the District Plan, the Town Planner has the discretion on whether it should be notified. That is, whether adjacent or affected neighbours are advised. I’ve repeatedly brought this up with the planners as they aren’t notifying anyone and often, residents don’t know what’s going to be built next to them until the bulldozers turn up and by then it’s too late. I asked why the council won’t notify deviations from the District Plan and they said they don’t like to because it involves a lot more work having to read through the objections, slowing the approval process up!

     
  35. Harold Rodd, 13. January 2021, 19:12

    Ray, I think the answer to your comment that “because they’re not ratepayers, they don’t understand the effect huge rate increases will have on those who do pay rates” is to have rates paid directly by all tenants so that they can see what huge rises are suffered by the rest of us. Rent could be reduced to offset the amount of rates at the beginning of the tenancy.

     
  36. Ms Green, 13. January 2021, 19:53

    Ray. You are wrong to say developers cover most of the infrastructure costs. Actually there should be a major inquiry into this so that it is transparent just what percentage of actual infrastructure costs were, are and will be paid by developers in eg the CBD for each development over the last 15 years, on the waterfront, Greenfield-Northern, Shelly Bay, Ohiro Road, Karori etc.

    Much of the problems in the CBD arise not only because of aging pipes but also because of vastly increased amount of material being ‘processed’ from the huge increase in CBD population over the last 15 years and more. Did the developers pay for the new extra pipes needed? No! Developers pay development contributions but I believe the Council has lessened or even eliminated them in the last four years.

     
  37. Ray Chung, 13. January 2021, 22:22

    Hi Harold, yes, I’d agree with that. It’s what happens with many commercial leases – the tenant pays the rates. As you say, if residential renters knew how much the rates were, perhaps they might stop castigating the landlords. We have many homeowners in ORCA, mostly retirees whose rates are greater than their superannuation and any rates increases have to come out of their savings. This is a very big issue for them that I don’t think some councillors appreciate.

     
  38. Ray Chung, 13. January 2021, 22:39

    Hi Ms. Green, we’re on the same page here! The District Plan states that developers must pay for any improvements to the infrastructure when they do a development. However, it’s up to the council and developer to negotiate what this cost is. This is where the problem is. I know what I think should be done but what do you suggest?

     
  39. Claire, 13. January 2021, 23:02

    Ray – do you really have homeowners who pay more than their superannuation in annual rates? That’s around $22,000 a year.

     
  40. Casey, 14. January 2021, 9:57

    Claire. Perhaps Ray omitted the word “increase” after superannuation. From 2012 – 2018, my Government superannuation payment went up 18%. In the same period my WCC rates were up 24%. I moved to a smaller abode and instead of paying one fifth of my gross superannuation in rates I now pay one eighth. Seemingly I will soon be back to paying a fifth again with no appreciable increase in services.

    Massive increases in rates and insurance premiums are not covered by adjustments to the superannuation payments, and this coupled with nearly zero return on interest bearing deposits is compounding the issue for many retirees. Older age becomes very expensive for many with health, mobility, and dental issues to pay out for.

     
  41. D'Esterre, 14. January 2021, 14:51

    Ray: “I’m vociferous about central politics having no place in Local Body politics!” This is my view as well. Wellington would be much better off, if all Councillors were either independent, or perhaps members of a citizens and ratepayers group which itself has no connection to any political party.

    Harold Rodd: “…have rates paid directly by all tenants…” I agree. It would concentrate the minds of those Councillors who, being renters, apparently do not appreciate how much the rest of us must stump up to pay for their ideological hobby horses.

    Casey: “From 2012 – 2018, my Government superannuation payment went up 18%. In the same period my WCC rates were up 24%.” This is a significant issue for all citizens who are obliged to depend financially upon NZ superannuation. There seems to be a view among the young that all older people are boomers and therefore wealthy. I’m not sure of the logic here, but in any event, it ain’t so. We older citizens saved money to supplement the pension: now we watch helplessly as the value of our investments erodes daily. Small wonder people buy houses: aside from the capricious stock market, what else is there in NZ which guarantees a return on investment?

    Old age surely can be expensive, as those of us who’ve reached it can attest.

     
  42. Ray Chung, 14. January 2021, 15:02

    Hi Claire, yes, you’re right! $22,000 would be a huge amount for rates and I never thought to question this statement. But one gentleman brought his rates bill in to show us and it was $13,000.

     
  43. Local, 14. January 2021, 18:54

    Now what do we get for our rates?
    Roads – some; street cleaning; water; parks and reserves; a bit of a trip in an old Auckland bus; financial support for some developers; a Singapore airline going nowhere; a broken sewerage system; one very expensive cycleway.
    No town hall but cost overruns; non maintained Civic Centre; Convention Centre; Rainbow crossing; WREDA and other CCOs; a zoo; a City art gallery and museum; some events; grants to whom?; creative story telling; economic summits; planning and replanning.
    Staff but doing what? Consulting us over and over. Renumerated mayor and councillors. Elections.
    And what don’t we get for our rates:
    User pays resource consents; user pays rubbish collection; user pays landfill fees; user pays parking; user pays house rentals; reduced library services (No Central Library) with the book collection in a warehoouse.

    Value for money? Not I suspect, if you are a struggling older person like D’Esterre.

     
  44. Somewhat fed up, 15. January 2021, 21:12

    What do we get for our rates? Interesting question. I’m a ratepayer and a taxpayer – money going out, but little coming in. The key things that we really want from our Councils must surely be the key infrastructure: water fresh & foul, electricity and data piped into our homes, a roading and pavement system that works, and the rubbish & recycling collected at reasonable intervals. Nice to have are those things of personal pleasure: libraries, swimming pools, gymnasiums, theatres, and some public events.
    And yet, what do we get?
    Electricity: contracted out to private enterprise.
    Data: contracted out to private enterprise.
    Roading: LGWM, doing sweet f all.
    Pavements: contracted out, or still in house?
    Cycle paths: still stuck in Island Bay.
    Rubbish collection: contracted out to multiple operators.
    Recycling collection: contracted out to multiple operators.
    Libraries: closed, or much reduced.
    Swimming Pools: actually, Council owned, and open!
    Gyms: all private sector?
    Theatres: St James and Town Hall both closed for refurb.
    Conference Centre: under construction, but will be contracted out.

    There’s a definite theme going on here: that the Council does not do much in reality, and what it does do it takes forever over, and either cocks up or does not complete. Poo on our streets and in our harbour; multiple buildings closed simultaneously for strengthening, as no-one seems to be able to coordinate the city refurb so that things happen sequentially. And yet down Cuba St they have just last year replaced all the older bricks with new, identical bricks, for no earthly reason – this year they are digging up the footpath and kerbing, only to replace them with new kerbing in exactly the same position as before and new asphalt exactly the same as before. What, pray tell, is the point in that?

     
  45. Concerned Wellingtonian, 16. January 2021, 7:21

    Somewhat fed up is putting it mildly. Not included is the expense of a highly-paid Economic Agency which is meant to be running the Council’s publicity and the farce of the Council now wanting to hire a creative storyteller.
    The real problem is that councillors do not ask questions so that we can see if they are doing their jobs. They just sit there and toe the party line.

     
  46. Andy Foster, 16. January 2021, 11:13

    First a very Happy New Year to you all. Far too much to respond to here – the wonderful way threads can go in many directions! I’ll pick up some other themes another day.

    Ray – thank you for writing. 23% is deeply concerning to me. Some people clearly think it is just the usual ‘start high and officers will work to offset others’ (elected members and community) proclivities to spend more’. However this year’s Long Term Plan is different. The challenges are greater than ever before. Several of you mentioned infrastructure, there are Covid costs, Civic Precinct – Town Hall – Library, major transport costs etc. Of course we can pull the 23% down, the question will be how far, what levers do we use, and what will Wellingtonians think of those proposals.

    A few corrections and responses.
    Ray – reason for borrowing increases. Inter-generational equity means long term assets are paid for by borrowing. The biggest items currently increasing borrowing are the Town Hall, Takina, St James and Omaroro reservoir.

    Ray – Library – that is a narrow analysis of submissions. Submitters by 49% to 42% favoured a new build, but survey respondents by 52% to 45% favoured retaining the existing building. Key to decision making was the work done in parallel with engineers, architects, QS and construction experts to reduce the cost and the risk of strengthening the existing building.

    Ray – you say Civil Servants salaries increased 13% – implying Council salaries increased 13%. No way! We provided for 2% remuneration uplift. The relevant article says Civil Servant salaries increased 4%. Finally Ray – there is no ‘jam jar’ for water meters. As part of the LTP, we will ask whether water meters should be installed to help detect and reduce water leakage and defer the expense of major water storage.

    Ben – we could try to transfer all construction risk to contractors. Increasingly contractors will price in the risks you seek to transfer. Many projects – for example with heritage buildings or uncertain underground conditions – will have potentially extensive risks. So working together client and contractor, including to solve problems in advance and as a project proceeds, is the way to go. For example try reading this.

    Finally – Local and Somewhat Fed Up – have you read the current Annual Plan which will spell out more about the 400 plus services that Council provides or supports? Just some of them: water, wastewater and stormwater pipes, reservoirs, including 3 wastewater treatment plants, 700km of roads and footpaths, cycleways, 14,500 street lights, parking services, bus shelters, street cleaning and rubbish bins, sea walls, marinas, parks, pools, recreation centres, courts, probably one of the best city reserve and track networks anywhere, environmental restoration (again something I think we are a leader in), Zoo, Zealandia, Museums, Galleries, Te Papa (support), Sky Stadium (joint owned with GWRC), Basin Reserve, performance venues and convention centre, extensive grants programme for a large range of community, social, arts and cultural, environmental and heritage purposes, Civic Precinct, public space, Waterfront, resource consent and building management, social housing, libraries, community centres, landfill, rubbish and recycling collection, economic development, support for a huge range of events, information (Contact Centre, IT services etc), policy development and leadership.

    My appeal is that when posting – can we distinguish between facts and opinions? I think we understand the risks of alternative facts now, don’t we ? Perhaps ask questions if we aren’t sure. That is a way of getting the best possible benefit from such an excellent forum as Wellington.Scoop.

    Happy New Year again to you all.

     
  47. Local, 16. January 2021, 12:46

    Andy, as far as I can tell, the only item I didn’t include was 14,500 street lights. All else falls under the headings I gave. My main point was to ask: which are paid for through our rates, and which are charging fees on top of our rates. Further, which have inflated costs because of private contractors, their margins and all the other subcontractors clipping the ticket. Facts please, but thanks for your reply.

     
  48. Trevor Hughes, 16. January 2021, 16:01

    Gidday Andy, Happy New Year. On 11 December you wrote:
    “Although WCC has been fully depreciating its water assets for many years, and providing the funding requested, the actual level of renewals investment has consistently been significantly lower than the depreciation collected. Significant funding has been directed to other projects. The result is that the network is ageing and deteriorating, leading to increases in pipe breakages and increasing water loss and wastewater leakage.”
    Ratepayers are entitled to know where has the funding collected for depreciation of Wellington’s water assets been diverted to. How much has been directed to other projects, what were/are those other projects and who decided to redirect the money? I’m making this request under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987.

     
  49. Andy Foster, 16. January 2021, 22:14

    Hi Local and Trevor – good and fair questions.

    Local – Section 101 of the Local Government Act requires all Councils to have a funding policy. We set out who benefits from any given service (individual or wider community or a subset of the community) and how any given service is intended to be funded. Essentially those services which have a high level of exclusive use and benefit tend to have a higher proportion of costs paid by the user (for example parking, or attending a pool) where those where there is no exclusivity (ie my using a service like a road or footpath doesn’t prevent you using it) Inevitably there is an element of judgement and the arbitrary in this – it’s always arguable – but that is the principle.
    Every service is assessed every three years as part of the Long Term Plan, Revenue and Finance Policy. The last LTP can be accessed here: http://ltp2018.publications.wellington.govt.nz/Part+G+Policies+and+Strategies/Revenue+and+Financing+Policy So for example community grants are 100% rates funded, parking is 100% user charge funded. Pools are 30% user charge funded, parks 20% and libraries 5% etc.
    One word of explanation – Council CCOs generally earn external revenue but at the moment this isn’t reflected in the revenue and finance policy.

    External contractors? We will use external contractors for a wide variety of things from construction to say specialist pool maintenance, engineering, IT and legal services – things that perhaps Council doesn’t have the internal expertise for, or it makes no sense to have full time employee(s) for an occasional activity. The degree to which an activity is undertaken by staff members or by external companies is something that will be constantly reviewed. We are developing a new procurement policy which is intended to ensure Council uses its purchasing power to support local business and desirable environmental and social outcomes.

    Trevor – We classify asset expenditure as:
    (a) renewals (ie replacement of an old asset – like with like), (b) upgrades in level of service (eg a new seismically resilient reservoir to replace an old non vulnerable one), and
    (c) growth related (eg a reservoir sized to support additional residences and businesses in the relevant catchment)

    The way renewals funding works is that the depreciation is effectively used to pay down debt. That allows capacity to borrow for replacement assets. (in this case pipes). However that capacity could also be used for purchase of other assets or to pay down debt. Those new assets could be waters related (eg new sewage plant or reservoir) or non water related (eg upgraded and strengthened Town Hall.

    Clearly over the past many years the amount invested in water renewals has been consistently less than the amount collected in depreciation. However ratepayers have not been done over through this Trevor. They’ve either paid less or got different services provided. One recommendation of the Mayoral Taskforce on 3 Waters was that the funding for waters renewals is ring-fenced so that this cannot happen in future, and over time there is a close match between depreciation collected and renewals funding.

    I hope that helps – happy to provide more information if you want to get in touch.

    Kind regards
    Andy Foster, Mayor of Wellington

     
  50. Ray Chung, 17. January 2021, 17:21

    Andy: I’m always willing to accept that my information is incorrect despite making every effort to verify it so I’d like to elucidate further. We’ve (ORCA) been participating in the Draft Long Term Plan (DLTP) and I was at the Khandallah workshop prior to Christmas and look forward to continuing discussions in February. I appreciate that this DLTP has a lot of challenges but aren’t there always in these? You give the examples of Covid costs, Civic Precinct, Town Hall, Library, major transport costs etc but there were many items in this workshop that, in my opinion, fall into the “nice to have” category and my point is that we can’t have everything as the ratepayers just can’t afford it. I fully understand the reason for the council increasing borrowing particularly while interest rates are so low and agree this is fiscally prudent. However, it seems to me that some councillors see this as an opportunity to push their pet projects through and this is my primary objection.
    Regarding the Library, yes I used the figure of 49% of submitters who preferred building a new library over the 42% who preferred strengthening it. I base this on my experience on proposals to strengthen my Willis Street property where I engaged three sets of structural engineers, all who had different opinions. How many major strengthening projects has the WCC commissioned that have been completed within budget? Certainly not the Town Hall or St. James. It’s my experience that people who go to the time and effort to prepare a submission and take the trouble to make a verbal submission prepare for this to utilise their time to the greatest effect and have a strong belief and reasoning for their submission. Inversely, I consider there are some people who complete multiple surveys and there is no way to verify this.
    Re salaries: I note that you’ve allowed for a 2% remuneration uplift. So would you give us the WCC remuneration cost for say the previous two years and the budget for this year?
    Then we go onto my “$50 million jam jar provision for water meters.” This figure came from a Stuff report that said council officers told councillors there was provision for $50 million for water meters. But this has never been discussed or approved by council so where is this $50 million? Water meters aren’t necessary for detecting and reducing water leakage and there are more cost effective ways of doing this.

    [Comments on this topic are now closed as we’ve reached the maximum number that our system can contain.]

     

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