In our ‘Democracy’ local government staff are supposed to provide balanced information on which elected DCC representatives then make decisions. DCC Staff agendas and reports can run to several centimeters thick of fine print, but the relevant information is too often missing.
This year’s rates debate was preceded by a special non-public ‘Rates Workshop’, a meeting in which staff report on and explain the rating system and answer Councillors’ questions.
I asked our presenting staff expert to justify the DCC Commercial Rating Differential, the multiplier by which we charge local businesses many times more rates that we charge to our residents for similar services. Our paperwork showed that the residential differential was 1 [the standard rates charge] and that we charge Dunedin businesses a commercial differential of 2.45 times the residential rate, more than twice as much.
I asked why we charged Businesses so heavily and was told that it was because we always had in the past [even more in past years] and that the 2.45 differential was similar to other New Zealand cities. I suggested that the real reason we charged businesses so heavily was the bad reason that we don’t have many business owners and that they are a minority voting block we can safely ignore.
I asked what the Commercial Rating Differentials were for our nearest business competitors Invercargill and Christchurch, but the senior number-cruncher who had just said our Commercial Differential was ‘similar to other NZ cities’ claimed not to know about Invercargill or Christchurch. I asked the number-cruncher to forward these competing differentials to us before the following Annual Plan Rates debate meeting, which he promised to do, but then didn’t.
In the following public Annual Plan rates debate I again had to ask what the rates differentials of our competitors was and the number-cruncher admitted that Christchurch’s differential was only 1.66 times the residential standard, and that Invercargill’s Commercial multiplier was 1 – the same as for residential!
But too late, the rubber stamps were out and the Mayor/Cr. Benson-Pope were claiming that poor Dunedin house-owners whose property values had increased by 10s of thousands this year would be hit hardest [by our unjustifiable 6.5% to maintain existing services] and further rates rorting by way of reducing fixed rates charges was needed, further increasing the disproportional burden on those Commercial rate payers that still persist in Dunedin.
So that is how it was done: with Mayoral approval staff write themselves an increase in staff costs of 7.4% on top of last year’s 8% staff increase [4xthe rate of inflation] and then claim that rates have to go up 6.5% to ‘maintain existing services’. The Mayor gets an unprecedented new 1.5 staff members to help him strategize, and staff blame reduced Landfill profits and ‘higher expectations’ for having to again gouge the ratepayer, especially our commercial ratepayers. The ODT accurately reported the unanswered questions…