Western Bay rates to rise 11.51% this year

June 3 - The Western Bays District Council, after considering hundreds (if not thousands) of pages of public submissions and staff reports, has cut its proposed rates increase - by a whole 0.39 percentage points this year.

So, instead of stinging the community with an 11.9% district-wide rates increase, the council has settled on an 11.51% increase (subject to audit) by moving some rates funding to debt funding.

In other words, the council has not cut any of its big spending, big debt plans. It has fiddled around the edges and, sorry, we will all face big rates increases this year.

Councillors seemed to be happy that the council kept its increase below its self-imposed 12% increase for the year (which itself was a big change from the previous 4% limit for this year in the previous long-term plan).

There was no sign of any dissension from councillors in the decision-making meeting, including those who have campaigned on lower rates (and even a rates freeze, remember that one from the last council-wide election?)

It is not clear how this decision will affect different groups of ratepayers (remember some rural ratepayers face even bigger increases).

Technically the decision today was by a council committee, subject to confirmation by a full council meeting after the figures are audited but, considering the mayor and almost all the councillors voted today, there is no reason to see much change.

"That's a good outcome we have here," Deputy Mayor John Scrimgeour said afterwards.

The mayor's verdict: he said he was sure the main reaction from the public would be thanks for delivering on much of what was asked for.

Sitting and listening (unusual for me)

May 31 - Today I sat through much of the Western Bay District Council's key decision-making meeting for its 10-year plan (until they kicked me out for an informal "workshop" behind closed doors, grrr). I've sat in many, many council meetings all over the country from when I first became a journalist in 1983 up until my career went in another direction in 1998 so it certainly brought back memories.

Here are some impressions from today, for what they are worth:

1) There is no doubt that the mayor and councillors have good intent. They know the detail and can get down to the nitty gritty. Yes, there is a tendency to back their corner of the district but there is also a willingness to buck parochialism to help out the whole district.

2) However our elected representatives really, really, really get bogged down in the detail. They discussed for upwards of 20 minutes decisions that might cost ratepayers $5,000 or $20,000 over ten years and spent much of this time carefully crafting the reasoning for their decisions to record in the minutes for posterity. Such small matters are important to the clubs, schools and communities that put forward requests for council help and they deserve proper consideration but you have to wonder whether you need the mayor, 10 councillors and 20+ highly paid senior council staff in a room to make such small decisions.

3) To put it all in perspective, the council plans to take in $1 billion in rates from us over the next 10 years and yet all the discussion in the meeting today would struggle to add up to even 1% of that.

4) When councillors looked at bigger issues, such as a planned $350,000 rates contribution to a new sports pavilion at Moore Park in Katikati (a plan not many in Katikati are even aware of) approval took just two minutes. Even the meeting chairman said the bigger the amount of money, the quicker the decisions seemed to come.

5) The mayor reinforced to the meeting that decisions must be made in the council chamber (i.e. in an official, public meeting) but there were a few allusions to councillors having a "rates target" for this year. I do wonder where this rates target was discussed as I don't think there is a public record of such a target (beyond the one previously published in the draft plan). It might have come from an informal workshop on the plan held behind closed doors? There is a real issue with transparency of council decisions across the whole country as these workshops have no records kept and no public or media access. A complaint from Rotorua about that council's workshops is before the ombudsman's office and Western Bay has a poor record on this too.

6) There were no journalists present for the local media and I was the only member of the public in the room. It beggers me that the local papers do not attend important meetings such as this where the council makes quite big decisions (the sports pavilion is definitely news to many in Katikati and the council also approved plans to add $130,000 to the plan to open a scenic lake by the Haiku reserve). Maybe I am just a grumpy old ex-news editor. The council does apparently stream its meetings online in some form but goodness how or where as it never promotes this service.

By the way, I am none the wiser at the end of all that whether the council plans to stick with its horrendously high rates and debt increases or whether it will pull back (or even go further). The meeting was so stuck in the nitty, gritty you could not see the big picture at all.

After kicking me out, the council kindly informed that it now plans to finish the meeting on Thursday. Work allowing, I will go along to that. I must be a sucker for punishment.

The huge bill WBOP council does not talk about

There are many things the Western Bays District Council failed to consult with us over in its 10-year plan, and one of the biggest is the huge loan interest bill it plans to impose on ratepayers over the next decade.

Its big spending plans mean that, on top of raising rates by 51%, it will also be tripling its debt - which will cost at least $70 million in interest over the next ten years.

I say "at least" because that number presumes interest rates stay unusually low, like they are now. This is pretty unlikely with the way inflation is making a come back globally.

The council currently spends about $3 million a year on loan interest and it has been paying down debt really well, reducing the bill each year. (Needless to say, it did not reduce rates in line with this, it just found new things to spend money on.)

If the council's debt repayments stay on track, it will have plenty of money to spend on libraries, swimming pools, cycleways and boatramps without big rates and debt increases.

But it seems our mayor and councillors cannot wait. They want to build everything now and run up rates and debt hugely.

To illustrate how silly this is, the interest bill for the last year of the long-term plan is forecast to be $9 million - enough in one year to build a couple of libraries or a huge indoor swimming pool or perhaps a couple of boatramps without any debt at all.

This is the fallacy of those that say we have to choose between low rates or good community facilities. If the council budgeted properly and spread projects out a bit, it would not need to load us down with big rates increases and high debts that our children and grandchildren will be left paying off.

The council meets tomorrow (May 31) to go through its long-term plan and there are some hopeful signs for the current year's high rates plan. Council officers have put forward a range of spending cuts (vs the previous plan) that would trim the proposed huge rates increase this year.

Therelief may be short lived as many of the proposals just push the spending back a couple of years, beyond the next council elections. They have not really recast the schedule. But let's give credit where it is (hopefully) due.

There is a section on rates affordability in the agenda for tomorrow's meeting, as 81 people made submissions on this topic to the council (despite it being played down in the consultation process).

"The prevailing theme throughout these submissions was that the 12% rates increase signaled for 2022 was too high and that Council should look to revise costs and projects in order to bring this down to a lower level," council officers say in their report to the council. Let's hope the mayor and councillors are listening.

Why consult at all?

The Western Bays District Council meets on Monday to consider all the submissions and implications of its high-rates, big-spending ten-year plan.

It has dropped literally thousands of pages on its website listing all the feedback and the response of council offices (there goes my weekend reading plan ... )

Interestingly, on the very first major subject in the deliberations report, council staff have suggested the council overrule public feedback and spend more money.

The topic is roading and three-quarters of the feedback was for spending to stay as currently planned or increase by the smallest option.

Council staff are recommending the council instead opt for the most expensive option (Option 3 in green in the council's pie graph).

It really does make you wonder why they go to consultation at all!

For the truly brave among you, you can read the full documentation for the long-term planning meeting here.

Meanwhile, in Tauranga…

That did not take long. Andrew Hollis tried to parachute onto the Western Bays District Council after getting jettisoned from Tauranga City Council.

A few weeks later he is back involved in Tauranga City politics again, on the steering group of the new ratepayer alliance focused totally on city issues.

Andrew assured us he lived in Western Bays so what gives? There are more twists to his story than a spring has coils...

Perhaps he follows Tim Shadbolt's famous motto: "I don't care where, as long as I'm mayor".

The councillor who does not vote

UPDATE (May 31) - Allan has changed his position and is now voting on the council’s long-term plan after a rethink at the council. This is good news for democracy as our elected representatives should not be neutered in this way.

I have yet to see Allan (or anyone else so far) voting for major cuts in the council meeting, but there is still some hours to go (someone come and slap me to keep me awake)

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The Western Bays District Council will meet on Monday (31 May) to revise its huge rate hikes and spending plans over the next ten years.

The Mayor and all the 11 district councillors have to take responsibility for the huge and unnecessary load they are putting on ratepayers and residents (reminder: the next election is just over a year away) but perhaps the most bizarre stance is that taken by our newest district councillor.

Athenree's Allan Sole, elected just a few weeks ago, has been quoted in a BOP Times interview (published 8 May, highlighted by me) saying that he will not be voting on the 10-year plan, despite having pledged during his campaign for debt to be repaid and rate hikes to be reduced.

You have to wonder why bother to go on council if you campaign on an issue and then refuse to engage on that issue once elected.

Allan has the freshest mandate of anyone on council. He is the only one elected when voters had the plan in front of them (the rest of them don't have a mandate at all for the big spend up, of course, especially as many of the biggest spending plans were left out of their so-called "consultation").

To be absolutely clear, this is what the council's own Code of Conduct says in such cases: "if a member has stood on a platform and been voted into office on the promise of implementing that platform, then voters would have every expectation that the member would give effect to that promise".

The 10-year budget plans of councils are their major set piece events for council revenue raising and spending. They are the local government equivalent of the central government's budget.

Can you imagine if a newly elected PM immediately ditched their campaign promises and said after a change in government: "Oh, we cannot change prior spending plans because we arrived late in the process."

The argument simply does not hold water.

I do hope that Allan, at least, does not claim any meeting fees or travel expenses for attending meetings on the 10-year plan, seeing he plans to sit it out.

Election manifesto: what Rodney Joyce stands for

Western Bay ratepayers face a triple whammy of a 50% rates hike over the next ten years (this year’s big jump is just the start), a tripling of council’s net debt and a huge run up in opaque reserve funds.

Sadly, the district council has not been upfront about its plans. It has consulted about a few thousand dollars for security cameras but not, for example, about taking $40 million out of ratepayer pockets to boost its asset replacements reserve by nearly 700%.

The council talks about social responsibility but it is not being socially responsible if it forces residents out of their homes with huge rates increases, breaking up families, friendships and communities.

In this by-election you have a clear choice between career politicians that have already been on council or community boards without being able to stop previous rates hikes, or choosing someone new to fight for you.

To learn more about me, scroll to the bottom of the page for my profile and link to my full CV. For more policy details read on (sorry, it’s a bit long)

What Rodney supports

1) Lower rates. There is no need to cut services – we just need more efficiency and to slow down the pace of new projects;

2) Open communication. Current council “consultation” is a sales job. It does not ask us to give feedback about rates and major spending. Council meetings and workshops should be as open as possible and all subject to “open government” rules;

3) Accountability. We must really listen to residents and bring an end to the widespread perception that there is no point trying to stand up to the council as it will roll on regardless;

4) Infrastructure. Council must maintain roads, pipes and recreational facilities such as parks, libraries and pools. It must be upfront about the costs so we can see where our money is going;

5) Efficiency. Cut back on council meetings for a start. Why do large councils (eg Hutt City) meet only eight times a year but our district needs 12 rounds of meetings? The more meetings, the more cost and the more opportunity for the mayor and councillors to spend our money. Council spending plans are padded and need to be hugely slimmed down;

6) The environment. The council’s long-term plan contains platitudes but little concrete action on the environment. There are things within council’s control that would have benefits and save money – such as buying only EV cars and installing solar panels on its buildings. Council should get back out of the business of collecting rubbish;

What Rodney opposes

1) Spending splurges. The council’s long-term plan seeks to fund a huge amount of its projects over the next 10 years including three libraries, two pools and a host of walkways, cycleways and new sportsgrounds. Most are good ideas but spread them out so rates are not hammered. Start with the urgent projects and then work through the rest;

2) High council debt. The council has done a good job reducing net debt over the past few years. Now it wants to run it back up to dangerously high levels again. This will leave no room for any emergencies that come up and leave an onerous legacy for our children and grandchildren;

3) Playing one part of the district against the others. The council is not a honey pot where everyone gets a turn because the council “will only spend it anyway”. Stop promising expensive projects across the district and playing one community off against another;

4) Secret “workshop” meetings. Council should, wherever possible, hold briefings and meetings in public. It should only go into private session where it absolutely has to

The least promising candidate

As you can see, I am the least promising candidate out there. I won’t promise you a new library in Waihi Beach (let’s fix the current one) or a $2 million roof on Katikati pool -- unless you are properly consulted about the cost on your rates and your community wants to pay for them.

Say NO to more council buildings (like the new Katikati building full of meeting rooms that hardly anyone uses).

Here’s a question to finish. Anyone have any idea just how many buildings and properties Western Bay District Council owns across the district? My pick is that it is in the hundreds.

Yet they keep wanting to buy or build more and more – and they want you to pay for them.

Surpluses as far as the eye can see…

A few people have asked me “how can the council justify taking so much money in rates”. Others go further and ask if it is even legal for the council to raise so much money, especially when it seems to have huge surpluses each year.

I’m not a lawyer so I cannot give a formal opinion but the overarching guidance on the council’s finances from the Local Government Act. Section 100 says the following: “A local authority must ensure that each year’s projected operating revenues are set at a level sufficient to meet that year’s projected operating expenses.”

The attached graph, showing past and projected operating surpluses at the Western Bay District Council strongly suggests this is not being adhered to as 19 out of 20 years show large surpluses – with $212 million in surpluses forecast over the next 10 years (we are not supposed to call them profits).

The act does allow a series of exceptions to this balanced-budget principle to spread out the cost of its services, so current ratepayers don’t pay for future benefits, for example.

However, I would argue that an endless series of large surpluses means we are no longer looking at intergenerational equity as there is not one year of a balanced budget forecast in the next ten years.

Our council is, quite simply, stuffed with money. It held $34.5 million in cash at the end of the last financial year and nine months later (31 March) it has grown that cash pile to around $55 million*.

You might expect the council to have a bit in the bank at this point as we all paid our very high rates bills in March. However the council cash pile goes far beyond that – its cash balance represents almost three-quarters of its total rates income for the whole year.

Remember, councils are not supposed to run a profit or a loss – they are service organisations that are required to run roughly in balance.

We need to rein in this council, and that is why I am asking you to vote for me this week (deadline Friday 12 noon) to fill the current council vacancy.

While we are looking at the Local Government Act, here are a couple more relevant points where the council has failed:

1) The Local Government Act requires council consultation to provide “a fair representation of the matters that are proposed for inclusion in the long-term plan”, yet the council never asked us for our views about the major matter of rates;

2) The long-term plan consultation document included errors in the rates information provided that mean the council did not meet Clause 93C (this is a bit technical but the council got its published rate rise figures wrong and also left some required numbers out of its consultation document – instead burying them elsewhere on its website);

Note on the graph: The past years (before the orange line) include asset revaluations as these are part of the council’s official operating balances. That was what pushed the council to a big operating deficit in 2012, in the midst of the PSA kiwifruit crisis. Revaluations also had a major effect in 2018, when the council’s surplus was larger than the year’s total rates income.

However, the projected figures exclude revaluations as asset values are not easily forecast and they are non-cash gains or losses. The council has nevertheless published projected asset revaluations. If I had included those, the council’s forecast surpluses would balloon out to a huge $725 million over the next ten years.

* Note on cash position, I’ve excluded an estimated $3.3 million cash held for regional council rates gathered by the WBOP council but not yet passed on as at March 31.

Fresh facts about Western Bay District Council finances

Fun Western Bay District Council facts of the day to show they are awash with money and don't need to raise our rates:

1) Operating Income was $108.76 mln for the 9 months to March 31 - $30 million or 39% above budget

2) Operating Expenses were $66.39 mln for the 9 months to March 31 - $2.4 mln or 3.5% below budget.

As well CAPEX spending was down on budget, helping net debt slide by a third in the nine months to $51 million.

That gives an operating surplus of just over $42 million for the nine months.

This surplus is MORE THAN half the council's total rates income for the year and shows they are simply taking in too much cash from ratepayers. The cash balance at 31 March was $58.8 million!

You can see these figures at: Agenda of Performance and Monitoring Meeting - Tuesday, 27 April 2021 (infocouncil.biz)

The very steep WBOP rates chart

One thing the Western Bay District Council does not seem to like to do is show us its past performance and future plans together so we can look at long-term trends.

The council’s surging rates income is an excellent example, so I’ve scoured the council’s last few annual reports and its forward-looking longterm plan and put the figures together in a bar chart to show just how crazy the increases are.

Ironically, even the council itself is worried about the affordability of “substantial” rates increase for ratepayers, but more of that in a minute.

Rates income goes up both because of increases voted through by the Mayor and councillors and also because our district is growing and each new home, orchard or commercial development increases the council’s rates income.

So what do the long-term trends show us? In the last 10 years to 2021, council’s rates income has jumped 57%. That is a big part of why our council’s rates are already in the top 2 or 3 highest across the whole of the country.

Our Mayor and his team are not content to stop there. If you take the longterm plan forecasts (to the right of the orange line in the graph), the council is planning to raise our rates a further 50% over the next ten years.

The council could go further – its current limit (which it could change whenever it likes, as it has this year) allows rates to rise 59% (cumulative) over that period.

Think about this, if your rates are $4,000 a year now, they’ll likely be at least $6,000 in 10 years. Even the council is starting to realise this is not sustainable. In its long-term plan, a section headed Affordability has the following statement:

“A key financial consideration is the ability of our community to pay for the cost of services delivered through their rates. The ageing population will result in a high proportion of our community being on fixed incomes. This impacts on their ability to absorb significant or cumulative rates increases.”

Just a couple of pages over, the council’s own report questions the need for big, additional spending on infrastructure: “Although Western Bay has higher rates than other similar local authorities it now has infrastructure that will last well into the future and accommodate expected growth.”

So taking those two statements together, how can any elected official justify the planned huge rates increases and spend ups?

In particular, why does the council want to grab an additional $30 million from our rates to stash into opaque financial reserves over the next 10 years?

The biggest reserve fund is the “Asset Replacement Reserves” and, as my accountant tells me, it is prudent to put money aside to replace assets in future.

The problem with this is that the council’s own policy is NOT to use this fund for its major assets. The big-ticket items of water, wastewater, stormwater and roads are, the council says, to be funded by debt and “pay as you go” charges.

The only items listed under “saving for asset replacement” are buildings, computers, office equipment and vehicles. As I’ve mentioned before, what is really scary is that the council gives few clues how it intends to spend this massive, opaque fund.

It plans to have $36.9 million of your rates sunk into this fund by 2031, of which only $5.8 million has a known allocation (swimming pools, library books and cemeteries). We have no idea what they plan to do with the rest or why they need to increase this reserve 700% at our expense.

If you have read this far, thank you as I know it is a lot of detail. So let’s leave this graph on a happy note.

If you look at the year 2030 on the graph you will see the council’s rates income is forecast to dip slightly. I have no idea why, after many, many years of steep increases, the council suddenly decides it will not need so much of your money that one particular year.

If you can still afford to live here in nine years, let’s see if we really do get a rates reduction that year – it will be worth a party!

Another council nightmare

The council’s rates forecasts for the Western Bay are very scary (up 50% over the next ten years) but its debt forecast should also prompt nightmares.

Our council wants to triple its debt to $243 million, taking it to dangerously high levels near the limit of what even it thinks is safe (180% of annual revenues).

It makes sense to use some debt to invest in long-term projects, to spread the cost of buying or building assets over the life of the asset, just as most of us do when we buy a house or car.

But our council has forgotten that there are also real risks when debts go too high. Less than a decade ago, our council was in crisis mode as high debt (from our wastewater projects) coincided with the PSA kiwifruit crisis.

In 2012 our council found itself in dire straits and it had to slash spending to keep its lenders happy and stop borrowing costs spiralling.

The lesson from that crisis was that some debt is OK but it is just a small step to major problems if you borrow too much and something goes wrong.

Since then the council has paid down its debt really well, helped by many millions of dollars in development levies from new subdivisions in our district (especially Omokoroa).

Sadly, the lesson now seems to have worn off and the council’s latest long-term plan shows it wants to triple our debt to fund a splurge of spending on projects our ratepayers cannot afford (eg three indoor swimming pools, three new libraries, lots of multi-million dollar boat ramps).

We face 10 years of high rates increases at the same time as mushrooming debt (to $9,000 per household), which is an awful legacy to leave our children and grandchildren in this slice of paradise that we call home.

By 2031, the council plans to spend $9.3 million a year on debt interest (finance costs) – money that could be better spent on community facilities if it would just spread those projects out and not try to do them all at once.

We urgently need a council that can budget properly and not waste money (e.g. no empty new buildings like the one next to Katikati’s library.) We need to ensure residents and ratepayers have more say over rates raised in their area and how they are spent in their area so people feel connected to the spending and rating decisions.

To achieve this, we need district councillors who can challenge spending plans and bring discipline to council budgeting. That is why I am standing for council.

You can read more about my policies for council on my website www.rodneyjoyce.nz.

Data sources: 2012-2020 council annual reports; 2021 annual plan less $20 mln recent repayment; 2022-2031 council long-term plan projections.

The rates limit with no limit

If you saw this picture (right) on an official Western Bay District Council document or website, you would think they are limiting your rates increase to 12% this year, right?

Sorry, but this council image shows no such limit. Many ratepayers such as orchardists and others face much larger increases. One retired couple I know in Ongare Point faces a 13.3% increase this year.

So what does the “limit” relate to? If you dig into the council’s plans, you will find that the 12% is the limit it has put on its own increase this year for rates income from existing ratepayers. Many individual ratepayers face much bigger increases.

Never mind that inflation is only around 1.5% at the moment – the council does not seem to worry too much about affordability in its big-spending plans.

Even the 12% is not real as the council ignores new properties in its calculations. It used to include growth in its rating limits but it quietly dropped that a couple of years ago.

Add in all the new ratepayers each year in this fast-growing district and the council could easily raise its income even higher than 12% this year.

The council often talks about the costs of growth (which are real) but it does not seem to dwell on how much extra money it gets from new ratepayers.

One more thing. If you add together the 12% “limit” for this year and 4% increases each year after that, the council will increase its rates income by more than half (up to 59%) over the next 10 years!

That is on top of the 23% rise in annual rates income the council has already enjoyed since 2015.

What can you do to fight a council that wants to grab more and more money from our community?

1) Check the proposed rates increase for your home/farm/business/orchard at: https://www.westernbay.govt.nz/property-rates-and-building/property-and-rates-search;

2) Write to the council at haveyoursay@westernbay.govt.nz and tell them you do NOT agree to big spending and rates increases (deadline this Friday – TOMORROW!);

3) Vote for me, Rodney Joyce, in the current byelection so I can take my financial expertise to council and fight its big-spending ways. I am a double ratepayer (for my business and home), I understand how councils and rates work, and I am determined to curb the overspending at council.

(This post corrected to change size of Ongare Point increase to reflect a change in capital value of the property. Apologies for the error.)

Update on Waihi Beach rates hikes

I have good news and bad news about the proposed big hikes in Waihi Beach rates that I wrote about last week.

The District Council has gone back and checked its homework and found an error so the proposed percentage increases have dropped markedly. That is the good news.

The bad news is that the error was in some of the old figures, not the new 2022 forecast, so the higher rates figures are still correct in terms of the large number of dollars the council wants you to pay.

The new figures are for lower value homes up 5.8% (was up 12% in the consultation document); median value homes up 6.3% (unchanged); higher value homes up 7.1% (was up 14%).

The error was that the council mistakenly used some figures from before the new rates valuations were issued last year. Not good, but I appreciate the council officials’ willingness to investigate and front up on the error.

The council is working to correct is online rates calculator and I’ll update you when that is done.

Waihi Beach’s proposed increases now broadly match the urban residential rates movements for the rest of the district but it is a bit of a depressing win. It does not mean you will pay any less, if the council’s current long-term plan is implemented.

The proposed increases for Waihi Beach are still around four times the inflation rate and the long-term plan is still hopelessly padded with overspending.

Sorry, I could not (yet) deliver a bigger victory for Waihi Beach but it does show the importance of electing district councillors who are adept at challenging the council’s numbers and pursuing issues they find.

There is much more in the long-term plan that needs fixing to really get the rates down, not just the correction of errors in the figures.

Why is Waihi Beach being hammered by bigger rates hikes?

Why are Waihi Beach/Bowentown being hammered with higher rates hikes than other parts of Western Bay?

These Western Bay council graphs tell the story. While other areas show increases of 5-9% across the different properties (low, middle and upper values), Waihi Beach is being slugged with much larger increases of up to 12-14% for low and high-value properties.

I asked the council before Easter if this is correct (it could be a mistake) and also why there is so much variation across the district?

I got one answer blaming roading rates but this is highly unlikely to be the case as they are rising only a little more than general rates and only make up a small proportion of rates for urban homes.

I’ve asked for the underlying data that made up the council calculations so I can check it myself but had no response so far.

All these big increases are planned, of course, against a backdrop of low inflation. Even a 5% increase in Katikati is more than three times the current inflation rate. And many ratepayers there also face larger increases than that shown on these tables.

What can you do to fight back against the big-spending council’s planned huge rates increases?

1) Check the proposed rates increase for your home/farm/business/orchard at: https://www.westernbay.govt.nz/property-rates-and-building/property-and-rates-search;

2) Write to the council at haveyoursay@westernbay.govt.nz and tell them you do NOT agree to big spending and rates increases (deadline this Friday);

Vote for me, Rodney Joyce, in the current byelection so I can take my financial expertise to council and fight its big-spending ways. I am a double ratepayer (for my business and home), I understand how councils and rates work, and I am determined to curb the overspending at council.

Lots of hot air about the highway

The current Katikati-Waihi Beach by-election campaign has taken a strange twist with a couple of candidates promising to “fix” SH2 if elected and push through a Katikati bypass. You have to wonder why they are not promising money trees for all ratepayers and world peace while they are at it.

Yes, SH2 safety and efficiency is a huge issue for us, including the chronic traffic problems through Katikati. To me, the answer is a road tunnel through the Kaimais that would divert trucks and much of the other traffic away.

Combine that with traffic calming measures through Katikati (roundabouts anyone?) and promotion of the current road as the “Pacific Coast” route and you will keep the leisure motorists and others in less of a hurry coming through our town, supporting our local shops but not clogging us up.

I will push for this if elected, even more than I do now, but I will not falsely promise to build this, because it is beyond both the finances and the control of the Western Bays District Council.

If you look at the approved roading projects on both sides of the Kaimais, it is pretty clear that NZTA / Waka Kotahi is quietly building towards a tunnel under the ranges, probably either near the current rail tunnel or near Thompsons Track.

The engineers are just waiting to find a government (of whatever colour) to sign off on what will be a major project of importance to the whole region, and especially the Port of Tauranga which is NZ’s biggest and most efficient port by far.

Remember, if NZTA did fund four lanes to Katikati and a four-lane bypass (which the town has been waiting for since at least the 1940s), the highway would then run into a large and difficult problem.

It would be funnelling huge amounts of traffic into the Karangahake Gorge and the only way to fix that bloody road would be to destroy the gorge.

So when an aspiring politician promises to fix SH2 as a local councillor, a position that has very limited influence over national highway funding, please ask them for specifics.

What exactly are they planning to do and how will they fund it and achieve it?

Or are they just puffing out hot air to try to get your vote?

Speech to Meet-the-candidates meetings

April 2 - Many thanks to the 100 or so people who turned out to Meet the Candidates meetings in Waihi Beach and Katikati over the past week.

These are the speech notes I prepared for the meetings. I did ad lib a bit but this covers the core of my message to voters as we try to get council revenue raising and spending under control:

You go to the supermarket to do your regular shop and you find it transformed. Beautiful new displays, stunning new products, a delicatessen from heaven. But something is missing – there are no prices on the shelves.

You need to eat, so you do your shopping and even add a few new delights to your trolley before fronting up to the checkout – where you find you have just spent hundreds of dollars more than you can afford.

This is where we are at in the Western Bay at the moment. The council has gone round and asked us all for our wish lists. Now, right at the end, the bill is coming due and it is huge.

Name me another district council in the country that wants to fund three libraries, two indoor swimming pools, put a $2 million roof on another one, spend millions each on three boatramps, and then another few millions on walkways, parks and cycleways – all in the space of a few years.

The council is playing down cost of all this. It is happily promoting its golden vision of the future so, if you want to know what it will cost you in rates, you have to dig to find its rates calculator.

One retired couple in Ongare Point has just found out that their rates will jump 13.3% next year.

Hikes of 9 or 10 percent are typical for town residents. Katikati shopkeepers face increases of anything from $400 up to $2,000 a year each. Orchardists and farmers face the biggest percentage increases.

In Waihi Beach, a friend of mine faces a 10% rise. Shopkeepers in Waihi Beach face increases of $500 or so each.

Overall, rates will rise up to 12% this year and that is just the beginning. Over the next 10 years the council plans to raise our rates by half and, at the same time, triple its debt.

The council is out of control and that is why I stand here today, a determined force to turn this madness around.

I own a wholesale business in Katikati, I have two sons and, with my partner Kay, a third child on the way.

I’ve covered local government as a journalist for decades, and I am the nerd candidate. I have read the council’s annual plan and its long-term plan front to back and I’m challenging its inconsistencies.

I’ve worked around the world for Reuters, a big news agency, as their fixit guy - turning poorly performing large and complex operations into success stories. Now we need to turn around this council.

If elected, I will communicate regularly and openly, and I will be accountable to you, the voters. I will not pop up at election time and then disappear while the council rolls on as usual.

My promise to you is that I am the least promising candidate. I don’t have a shopping list of new spending ideas. That is not credible if we are serious about getting rates under our control.

One last thought, we must end the shell game where Katikati is told, don’t worry, Te Puke will help pay for your library. Te Puke is told Omokoroa will share the cost of its pool, Omokoroa people are told its cycleways will be partly paid by Waihi Beach and Waihi Beach is told – don’t worry Katikati will pay for your new library.

When the council is splurging everywhere, the old divide and conquer tactics are no longer tenable.

(This post corrected to change size of Ongare Point increase to reflect a change in capital value of the property. Apologies for the error.)

Don’t beat up the neighbours

This graphic, from the Katikati-Waihi Beach Residents and Ratepayers, is quite misleading. It has been round for more than a month and I chose not to use it because it picks out part of council spending unfairly.

Unfortunately another candidate has belatedly discovered it so here is my take on why it is misleading:

1) It covers only part of council spending. Transport and Utilities are core council responsibilities and they are large, but they are not the whole story. When you add in other parts of the council it evens up somewhat;

2) Not all of the Omokoroa spending shown comes from rates. The government is chipping in $17.5 million to develop the area (as part of its shovel-ready economic stimulus) and a lot more has come from subdivision developers in Omokoroa through council levies imposed on them when they subdivide. In one year alone (2018) these levies chipped in $10 million to council coffers, mostly from Omokoroa;

3) Omokoroa’s rates increase this year is actually a point or two higher (on average) than in the rest of the Western Bays;

4) Omokoroa is a cash cow for the council and those development levies – which are supposed to be spent on infrastructure – have been a big reason why the council’s debt has slid so far in recent years;

5) Omokoroa is growing – soon its population will be as big as Te Puke and twice the size of Katikati. Overall, the increase in the numbers of ratepayers will be a financial benefit to the Western Bays Council. With that growth will come a need to invest in the area’s roads and pipes;

6) This finger pointing at others in Western Bay is the classic divide-and-rule tactics followed by our council (and former President Trump in the States). Pushing for “my turn” at the council trough like a child is why we have fallen into the trap of high spending / high rates that hits all of us.

The Facebook commentary with this is even more misleading because the graphic shows spending over ten years, but the candidate says it is the reason why your rates are going up this year.

I really appreciate the residents association for its hard work tracking council spending and there is much overspending to criticise but this graphic does not advance understanding, unfortunately.

Calculate your rates hike

23 March - This week is rates week. For many people paying council tax is pretty tough as we all try to get our money in before the penalty date on March 26.

The bad news is that the rates are about to get a lot higher, with the council pushing through a 10-year spending plan that puts rates up 12% in the coming year and 59% over the next ten years.

Various councillors are pushing the line that the increase for urban residents is "only" 6.3% next year (still 4x the inflation rate) but that is the average. Many will pay bigger increases (mine is +9% for a modest 3-bedroom home in Park Road).

Shopkeepers, orchardists and farmers are facing increases of 12-14% ON AVERAGE next year.

Want to know how far the council wants to hike your rates? Buried at the bottom of their long-term-plan consultation website is a rates calculator where you can enter your property address and calculate your rates increase next year:

https://www.westernbay.govt.nz/property-rates-and-building/property-and-rates-search

Remember, if you say yes to all the council's spending plans at its fun days or online, you are voting to increase your rates by 50% over the next ten years!

Council’s opaque funds that cost ratepayers dearly

Have you, like me, wondered how the Western Bay District Council suddenly came up with $1.275 million last year to buy a house in Katikati?

There was no consultation, no forewarning to the public of such an upcoming major purchase in either the council’s annual budget or its long-term planning document.

There was just a story in a local paper after the council purchased the property. (No price was disclosed but thankfully property records are public information.)

The council is supposed to set out its plans, get them audited, and present them to us, the residents and ratepayers, for us to say yes or no.

So how did $1.275 million slip out the door without any transparency at all?

The cost of this Beach Road house almost matched the rates increase for the whole district this year, so it is a significant purchase.

The council keeps money in a range of rates-funded pots from which it can, seemingly, dig out large sums of money without consultation.

The $1 million playground being built on a flood-plain in Omokoroa is another case in point.

A local paper tells us this is being funded by “asset replacement” and other funds, but misses the point that these funds are paid for out of our rates.

I’m not against playgrounds or sports facilities (the house is to be used by the Katikati Boating Club) but I am against the council doing major projects at our expense using opaque pots of money without asking us.

Sadly, it is set to get much worse. While the council is consulting residents about a few thousand dollars for security cameras, for example, it’s long-term plan quietly sets aside an extra $31 million out of rates over the next 10 years to bank for future use.

Currently this asset replacement fund has around $5 million in it, so the council plan is to increase the fund seven-fold – effectively taxing current ratepayers almost half a year extra in rates to pay for future projects.

FYI that our council already had $35 million in cash on hand (half a year of rates) at the end of its last financial year, its annual report shows, and its operating surpluses over the past five years totalled $196 million.

Note too that the council is budgeting for another big operating surplus next year of $16.9 million – more than enough to remove the need for any rates increase this year. Our council has a pile of our cash already!

Council’s plan to triple its debt

This graph is another important contribution to the current debate over rates and debt from the Katikati-Waihi Residents and Ratepayers Association.

The council has actually done a decent job paying down debt after the big costs of all the sewerage plants it built to clean up our environment.

However, as well as planning to boost our rates more than 50% over the next 10 years, it also plans to TRIPLE council debt.

The council's net debt was $75 million ($3,300 per household) at the end of the last financial year (mid-2020). While still high compared to other councils, it has tracked down quickly - no doubt helped by reserve contributions from new subdivisions.

The council's long-term plan projects net debt more than tripling to $240 million over the next 10 years ($9k per household) and brushing the upper limit of what even it thinks is responsible.

So the council plans to leave our children and grandchildren to deal with the debt (long after the current mayor retires) AND also leave no room for any emergencies such as an earthquake or other key risks (eg if the government ups environmental standards).

I do not believe this is responsible government.

Who is Rodney Joyce?

Rodney runs a wholesale business in Katikati, selling fashion and home decor products to retailers all over New Zealand. He came home from overseas for family reasons five years ago, after working as a financial journalist/editor for Reuters, the international news agency.

With a background of more than 30 years in journalism and management, Joyce is a firm believer in transparency in local council matters. As a journalist, he has reported on councils in Auckland, Wellington, Hawkes Bay and Taranaki.
Rodney is a father of two boys and with Kay, his partner, another child is on the way this year.

For more information about Rodney, click here: www.linkedin.com/in/rodneyjoyce

Contact Me

Authorised by Rodney Joyce, 148 Park Road, Katikati

Phone: 027 374 7933

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