Rodney on right track for local government

June 10th, 2009 at 9:44 am by David Farrar

A very good NZ Herald article:

Local Government Minister is looking into law changes that could divide council spending between core services, which councils could automatically spend money on, and “extras” – cultural, environmental and social spending and business investments that could require approval from ratepayers.

I like the concept. It empowers ratepayers, while allowing Councils to perform core services without the possibility of inadequate funding.

Mr Hide has not listed all the services he considers core council responsibilities. But he said it would be a wide definition encompassing running libraries, transport and water services and rubbish collection.

Yesterday he listed Hamilton City Council’s investment in the Novotel hotel, Invercargill City Council’s investment in a Lotto franchise and South Taranaki District Council buying the Hawera movie theatre as examples of councils going beyond core functions.

Absolutely. And what Rodney is saying is not that Councils would be banned from doing this, but they have to get ratepayer approval.

Mr Hide said he would like voters to be able to indicate at local body elections how much they would be willing to pay in rate increases over the next three years.

Also a good idea.

Local Government New Zealand governance manager Mike Reid said many councils would not bother with innovative projects if they had to hold a referendum first.

“Invercargill could have held a referendum [on the Lotto shop] but the people on the local community board probably felt they knew what people wanted because they saw them every day in the supermarket,” he said.

If the community board members thinks it is an innovative project based on their supermarket conversations, then they can invest their own money into it – but their role is not to forcibly take money from ratepayers to spend on commercial competitive businesses.

“Any council that exposes itself to too much [financial] risk can be expected to be removed at the next election.”

Mr Reid cited Auckland City as an example of a council that had been changed several times because ratepayers were not happy with spending.

Yes, but by then the spending has occured and is generally not reversible.

Taking decision-making powers away from councillors would stop energetic and entrepreneurial people standing for local bodies, he said.

Councils are not meant to be entreprenuers. You want entrepreneurs when it is their own money they are risking – not everyone else’s. If Council has commercial subsidiaries then entrepreneurs can be appointed to those, but it is ridicolous to think that people get elected to territorial local authorities on the basis of their entrepreneurial activities.

“If it was such a great idea [requiring ratepayer approval] central government might like to apply it to itself, because we’re talking about quite small amounts of money.”

Also not a bad idea. Central Government should not be buying or establishing businesses in competitive sectors.

Gerard Langford, of South Taranaki District Council, said his council bought the Hawera cinema building for $1 million two years ago because the private owners were about to close it.

The community supported keeping the movie theatre, which was run by a trust using money from ticket sales and advertising, he said.

And if the ratepayers gave their approval, they still could.

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42 Responses to “Rodney on right track for local government”

  1. Owen McShane (1,226 comments) says:

    The fundamental issue here is our attitude to government powers.
    The history of the Anglo American tradition, since Magna Carta, has been to properly control and restrain government powers.

    This restraint on power was applied to all levels of government.
    The citizen is free to act unless those actions cause harm but governments can do only what they are empowered to do.

    Then Sandra Lee decided to give Local Government the powers of general competence and turned this on its head.
    Our modern version of the Divine Right of Kings.

    Rodney is simply re-establishing the principles of Magna Carta etc.

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  2. clintheine (1,560 comments) says:

    This is brilliant! Well done Rodney. I bet the lefties are spewing at the idea that the people will get to choose.

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  3. KiwiGreg (3,129 comments) says:

    The foolish private owner has missed a real opportunity that South Taranaki District Council has grabbed. How he could even think of closing what is obviously a highly profitable theatre in Hawera. It just shows why running businesses should be left to responsible local government politicians using taxes and not foolish short sighted people investing their own money.

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  4. wreck1080 (3,533 comments) says:

    I despise the councils.

    What would be a good list of what council core functions should be?

    Or, is it easier to say what they should not be doing :)

    Our councils core function, seems to be increase rates by 37%. Apparently to cover insufficient rates collection in the past.

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  5. coolas (105 comments) says:

    We have yet to see the details of Hide’s proposals. In the District I live (Hastings) Council is a big supporter of the Arts & Recreation: an Opera House, Art Gallery, Splash Planet, Matariki festival, surf lifesaving etc and $$$ allocation is decided after the annual LTTCP hearings where all citizens are invited to make submissions. Much of Council’s spending in these areas is unpopular and if put to referendum I wouldn’t be surprised to see a majority against. Would Hide’s referenda proposal see these projects abandoned? No private funds would be forthcoming because they don’t make a profit as such but have considerable added value through motels, cafes etc.

    Like so many of Hide’s initiatives his approach is too simplistic. If Councils don’t support the Arts & Recreation who will?

    [DPF: Wanganui has put major projects to a public vote, and the public have said yes to some and no to others - as it should be]

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  6. KiwiGreg (3,129 comments) says:

    In the US it’s largely done this way, often with the voters having to agree to the specific tax increase or borrowing to fund whatever it is that is being pushed.

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  7. KiwiGreg (3,129 comments) says:

    @coolas “If Councils don’t support the Arts & Recreation who will?”

    So if the PEOPLE dont support it ratepayers should be made to???? I totally support Arts and Recreation and pay for all my own.

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  8. Christopher (425 comments) says:

    LOL Coolas,

    Let me get this straight:

    You candidly admit that most people would not be interested in paying for your ‘Arts’

    You personally like them.

    Therefore, everyone else should bow to your wishes and use their money to support the ‘Arts’ because you personally believe it’s important.

    Fantastic logic, I love it!

    On that basis, I think it’s really, really important that I drive a Lamborghini Gallardo, and I therefore expect the good people of New Zealand to purchase one for me.

    I’d like it in “Charcoal” or “Smoke” please, with the new ceramic disc brakes and the optional coloured stitching on the seats. Cheers.

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  9. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    No private funds would be forthcoming because they don’t make a profit as such but have considerable added value through motels, cafes etc.

    The council would presumably argue this case before the referendum then.

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  10. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    Parks libraries etc were once fully funded by charitable foundations and the likes and WERE NOT FUNDED BY COUNCILS USING COMPULSION. (Until socialists came along.)

    These items are not “core”.

    They, along with all other such non core items, should be separated from compulsory rating.

    Every rate notice should include a list of non core items and the cost of these items to each individual ratepayer, and an opt out/ in box that can be ticked yes if the ratepayer decides they want to contribute, and no if they don’t.

    PUT OPT IN/ OPT OUT BOXES ON RATE NOTICES.

    IT IS THAT SIMPLE.

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  11. sonic (2,818 comments) says:

    I wonder if ratbiter would be in favour of more lampposts being provided by local councils, just so he has enough for the glorious day when he gets to hang anyone he does not like from them?

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  12. Christopher (425 comments) says:

    I wonder if ratbiter would be in favour of more lampposts being provided by local councils, just so he has enough for the glorious day when he gets to hang anyone he does not like from them?

    I believe you’re referring to Redbaiter.

    Ratbiter is a separate entity (AFAIK).

    Terminology fail, sonic.

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  13. sonic (2,818 comments) says:

    Christopher, I’ve been referring to our deluded little friend as Ratbiter for years, I see no reason to change now.

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  14. coolas (105 comments) says:

    Problem with referenda is the complexity of many issues/projects. Citizens can’t be expected to read the pile of material. It all gets simplified to sound bites. We elect Councillors to do the research/discussion for us ‘cos we haven’t the time and trust them to make informed decisions. Of course we should pay an entrance/attendance fees but it’s the capital projects that will suffer.

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  15. sonic (2,818 comments) says:

    If Rodney is now if favour of referenda do we get one on the supercity?

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  16. Neil (528 comments) says:

    Redbaiter I disagree strongly over pools and libraries.
    Removal or payment of library services would be active discrimination of poorer folks and also elderly people. It is negative discrimination.
    Pools – remember public riots in Los Angeles during ther hot summer days of 1968. Could imagine that happening in South Auckland.In our situation it would dsrive people to swim in dangerous rivers
    Libraries and pools have always been council core business.
    We have some very hard hearted people on the extreme right.

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  17. thomasbeagle (78 comments) says:

    Poor Rodney Hide. He’s going to be so disappointed when he realises that most people do want their councils to spend money on those things. Sure, everyone only supports 80% of current council spending, but for everyone it’s a different 80%.

    And, you know, if they didn’t like it, they’d surely have voted the bums out. That’s why we have democratic elections for local government.

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  18. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “Redbaiter I disagree strongly over pools and libraries.”

    Obviously, but your argument is so full of logic holes its laughable. You say you support freedom of choice, but you seek to impose your collectivist ideology, and refuse to test its real acceptance with opt in out boxes.

    You claim to care about the poor.

    Why should a struggling family with no need of books be forced to provide them for rich kids via a compulsory funded library?

    Once again, if you really do care about freedom of choice, if the need for libraries exists, why not leave it to voluntary charity as it was left before?

    What’s wrong with opt out opt in boxes?

    You don’t even try to answer these questions.

    “remember public riots in Los Angeles during ther hot summer days of 1968. Could imagine that happening in South Auckland.”

    So all that is required to seek funding for public facilities is the threat of riots if they are not provided??

    That is not democracy. That is theft by means of violence and destruction.

    “We have some very hard hearted people on the extreme right.”

    Utter rubbish.

    You have no argument, so you try to smear those who do have one as “hard hearted”.

    Hopeless.

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  19. KiwiGreg (3,129 comments) says:

    @thomasbeagle “Sure, everyone only supports 80% of current council spending, but for everyone it’s a different 80%.”

    Are you kidding me? I don’t support 25% of council spending let alone 80%.

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  20. sonic (2,818 comments) says:

    Hard hearted, no-one could accuse ratbiter of being hard hearted, just read this to see the milk of human kindness that flows from his every pore, as well as his hatred for any form of violence.

    “These so called journalists will be hung from lamp posts when the revolution comes, as partners in crime to corrupt governments, and that time is getting closer every day. I can’t wait to see their corpses swinging in the wind, with every two lamp posts supporting a twirling politician separated by one mainstream media “journalist” with their neck stretched to the maximum.”

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  21. Kimble (4,095 comments) says:

    SONIC IS A TROLL, DO NOT RESPOND TO HIM

    IF YOU RESPOND TO HIS OBVIOUS TROLLING THEN YOU ARE EMPOWERING HIM

    THAT WOULD MAKE YOU WORSE THAN A TROLL

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  22. burt (7,096 comments) says:

    What Kimble said.

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  23. sonic (2,818 comments) says:

    Kimble, I think your caps lock button night be stuck.

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  24. toad (3,654 comments) says:

    If Rodney Hide thinks local referenda are such a great idea, why doesn’t he give the people of Mount Albert one on whether they want a motorway bulldozed through their suburb?

    Oh, hang on, they’ve got one on Saturday haven’t they. And it looks like Melissa “It’s above ground for me” Lee is on target for less than 20% of the vote.

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  25. lofty (1,295 comments) says:

    “If Rodney is now if favour of referenda do we get one on the supercity?”
    “Kimble, I think your caps lock button night be stuck.”

    Sorry Sonic I dont understand idiot, can you repost in english please

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  26. lofty (1,295 comments) says:

    Glasshouses and all that eh Sonic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  27. backster (2,000 comments) says:

    TOAD:::::::::::”If Rodney Hide thinks local referenda are such a great idea, why doesn’t he give the people of Mount Albert one on whether they want a motorway bulldozed through their suburb?”

    Local roading is a core basic..but if it wasn’t then following the Wanganui example then both options would be listed and the amount by which rates would increase would be shown for one option and the amount by which rates would increase would be shown for the other.,.Ratepayers get to vote for that which they are prepared to pay for.

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  28. bchapman (649 comments) says:

    What about major road projects? If my council wants to destroy pedestrian amenity in our area by adding another couple of lanes to our local arterial road outside our local school, can we ask for a referendum to stop it? Can we have another vote to make them spend the money on cycleways and pedestrian links?
    This could be agood way of taking back our local amenity out of the hands of council’s traffic engineers.
    The other question I have – Once a project is passed does that mean council is forced to build it. What if it is passed but the costs mke construction prohibitive- or circumstances change later on. Would Auckland have got its waterfront stadium if we had a referendum?

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  29. Sam Buchanan (499 comments) says:

    “I bet the lefties are spewing at the idea that the people will get to choose.”

    Not this one – my local council was pushing for user pays water and looks like backing down after public pressure and a popular vote for ostensibly anti user-pays candidates in the last election (‘ostensibly’ as some of them ‘changed their minds’ once elected). We’d have won a referendum hands down.

    Suspect lots of the Wellington City Council’s idiot plans would have failed at the ballot box (half a million or something for an electronic sign for the stock exchange, a few gazillion to bulldoze Cuba Street, $125,000 for a pretend house by the new bypass because the mayor wants the city to look arty, in a slick corporate way of course).

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  30. toad (3,654 comments) says:

    backster said: then both options would be listed and the amount by which rates would increase would be shown for one option and the amount by which rates would increase would be shown for the other.,.Ratepayers get to vote for that which they are prepared to pay for.

    But there are more than two options backster. The one that I support is improving public transport before any more major urban motorways are considered. I think a lot of Aucklanders would agree with that option.

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  31. bchapman (649 comments) says:

    is it only ratepayers who get to vote? Is it ethical to allow non ratepayers to jack up the rates by voting for projects thay won’t have to pay for?
    What about property owners who do not live in the municipality? What say do they get?

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  32. side show bob (3,660 comments) says:

    All this bickering may only be academic in time. I see many local councils are on the bones of their arses and have taken to fleecing further wealth from their rural landowners, higher rates increases by far for those that actually produce something. Yes the years of glorious socialism, taking more and more because you can is now being recognised as unsustainable. That it’s all about to turn to custard has got many local authorities filling their pants and rightly so. I’m surprised those living in the big smokes are not more aware of what is about to befall them.

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  33. PaulL (5,776 comments) says:

    Toad: if those who will fund the motorway were given a choice in a referendum, they would overwhelmingly support a road not a tunnel. Of course, the Mt Albert voters aren’t those who pay – that would be those of us who don’t actually live in Auckland. And you can be pretty sure most of us will be quite happy with a motorway and $1 billion in the Super Fund instead.

    As for a super city referendum – I don’t recall the last govt (which the greens supported) offering much in the way of referendums. As I heard on “focus on politics” – one of our more left wing news shows: “of course, referendums are a big favourite of oppositions, but in government very few parties will offer one. Not many issues are suitable for one.” I don’t recall Labour ever offering a referendum on it – just a royal commission.

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  34. Chris Diack (723 comments) says:

    Of course our Green Party friend Toad should not be pointing to Melissa Lee as a political failure.

    If the polling is correct “More Muscle with Rusel” has failed to impress any sizable number of Labour voters to switch. In fact he clearly isn’t their cup of tea at all.

    It would appear that his strategy was to largely pick up the non Labour vote by being best at abusing Labour on the hustings.

    Mt Albert is like the Green version of the Charge of the Light brigade – more brawn than brain.

    Softly softly catchy monkey!

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  35. toad (3,654 comments) says:

    Wait for the figures on the night Chris. And remember that the Greens started in Mt Albert with a miniscule proportion of the electorate vote (on the evidence of the 2008 election returns).

    It is hard to get Labour voters to switch, especially in the poorer parts of the Mt Albert electorate where voting tends to be very “tribal”. I’ve explored this a bit in an informal manner campaigning at bus stops and trains stations. Lots of voters agree with the Greens policies, especially re transport, more than they do with Labour’s.

    But then say they will still vote Labour! Go figure!

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  36. dion (95 comments) says:

    Brilliant – it’s about time councils showed a bit of accountability for their costs.

    Hopefully it’ll mean Christchurch will see reduced spending on ridiculous things like bronze corgis, piles of rocks concreted together, bail outs of failed property developers, etc, etc.

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  37. Viking2 (10,747 comments) says:

    All interesting for this lunchtime I was present at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon where Rodney was guest speaker and spoke about what he is about getting done. I will go as afar as to say that even the lefties will eventually get it though quite a few so called business leaders are still wondering about the changes. The top line is about improving NZ’s productivity and therefore our living standards. Auckland currently is a disparate group of self serving councils etc with no requirement to meet the communities total needs. This has to change. Now this same situation doesn’t necessarily apply to other area’s but the common issue is one of bureaucracy and council spending and councils current rights to do what ever they like if there is the councilors with the right numbers. Unrestrained bureaucracy to the detriment of the ratepayers. There is the tendency to favour factions via rates, and there is the tendency of most politicians, especially from the left to play to the lowest common denominator in the electors.
    Unfortunately ratepayers have only about 25-30% of the vote at a local body election. Ratepayers by definition are those that pay rates. i.e. housing tenants do not pay rates but have a vote, commercial tenants do but do not have a vote based on that tenancy.
    Households where there are multiple persons may have many votes but the burden of the rates may fall only on one or maybe two of the number. ( Remember that a person can vote at age 18, so a house full of students or boy racers has more votes than the ratepayer that owns the house.) Conceivably a boy racer could be voted in as a councilor or even more than one. Students have done this by putting up candidates and winning. Values Party anyone.
    Therefore the current system of voting is undemocratic.
    Now That’s not about to be changed so councils need to be held a lot more accountable by being limited to the things that are 1. necessary core functions and 2. approved by electors.
    To make that a fairer process the Residential Tenancies Act needs changing to allow landlords to pass rates charges to their tenants so tenants are then as responsible for community spend as their landlord. ( Not unfortunately up to Rodney but the responsibility of Phil Heatley.)

    The most interesting observation I made from this meeting was the self interest groups like the cities lawyers,( who nobly sponsored the lunch,), and the council and consultant groups were gripped with fear. Fear that was so evident because they suddenly saw that their fees etc and their privilege was going. Fascinating to watch. Me being just a common ordinary working type thought it is all about time.

    If you can get to listen to Rodney on this subject its worth every minute of your time.

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  38. PaulL (5,776 comments) says:

    Toad – when you explain the ACT policies to many of them, they agree with them to. They don’t vote for ACT either. I suspect the problem is that when someone campaigning explains the policies, they sound reasonable. But they just aren’t comfortable with the branding and media positioning. That is true for most of the minor parties – people vote on a brand (as the media choose to brand you) rather than on the detail of the policies.

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  39. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,787 comments) says:

    bchapman says at 2:03 pm

    Would Auckland have got its waterfront stadium if we had a referendum?

    NO!!

    It was universally unpopular just like the Labour party and got the bums rush, again just like the Labour party did last year.

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  40. Brian Marshall (181 comments) says:

    I love the idea of referendum. It’s means direct involvement by the public about decisions affecting them, but only if the referendum are binding.
    One example above was the motorway extension in Auckland. That would be great, but only if the difference in costs are born by those who ultimately vote for a more expensive option. It’s not fair that a greater cost falls to those who do not live in Auckland, than to whom benefit. Last point to think about however, is the costs being born by the ratepayers, as opposed to the voters that are not ratepayers.
    Margaret Thatcher raised the possibility of Poll Taxes in the 1980′s. I have liked some left wing ideas, and liked some to the right, but I have always thought that a Poll tax was the fairest way to fund local body rates.

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  41. Chris Diack (723 comments) says:

    Toad, we all have our problems I guess. Are you looking for sympathy or understanding.

    It is the Green Party running a Wellington based Co-leader in a safeish Labour seat in Auckland. The challenge was always to persuade Labour voters to tactically support the Green Party. A tactical or strategic voting message by-passes the need to confront and change long held brand loyalties. The Green’s could never have changed long held loyalties in the context of a by-election campaign anyway one needs a longer run up.

    On current polling Labour voters appear almost to a person to be unmoved by the Green’s campaign message – a muscular message which appears to be determined by and reflective of the Co-Leader himself.

    I also think the poll result will stall any momentum the Greens might have had – which frankly isn’t evident in the poll anyway.

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  42. Viking2 (10,747 comments) says:

    Brian, absolutely right but politically unsustainable but worse difficult to do. But, nail down what councils do have a responsibility for and then shift everything else out to private enterprise which is an automatic user pay and then allow landlords to charge electors for rates and the issue come much more into focus.

    Toilet rumour this lunchtime is that a prominent CEO of a leading port thinks that Ports of Auckland will get the heave ho and a stadium will be built on the water front. Amazing what you here some places. Suspect he will be proven correct.

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