It's last orders for a campaign to force the first public vote on the sale of alcohol in West Auckland for 16 years.
Community group Waltag wants separate referenda on the Portage and Waitakere Licensing Trusts to run alongside October's local election.
To do so it needs 15 per cent of registered electors in each trust area to sign a petition by Friday.
Despite a surge in support over recent weeks and almost 25,000 signatures all up, Waltag spokesman Nick Smale today conceded they won't reach the threshold in Portage.
There's still a chance in Waitakere but it's a "huge ask", Smale said. While Waltag - the West Auckland Licensing Trusts Action Group - has enough signatures, it needs a bigger buffer to offset the likelihood that many won't meet strict admissibiltiy rules.
Smale urged people who wanted a vote to support the petition while there was still time.
"Our message that the trusts' monopoly doesn't work for West Auckland has really started to cut through," Smale said.
"Many signing the petition simply want to be able to buy beer and wine at their local supermarket. Others want more variety in places to eat and drink across the area — they don't want to have to drive to central Auckland for a good night out."
The trusts control much of the alcohol sold in a patch that tallies largely with the area run by the former Waitakere City Council.
As the only entity allowed to apply for standard off-licences and tavern licences, they have control of bottle shops and pubs and bars where people can drink without buying food.
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But they deny a monopoly, pointing out that anyone can apply for restaurant licences, where people can drink while they eat.
"There is a lot of support for the way we sell alcohol responsibly and give back to West Auckland," said chief executive Simon Wickham. "Our supporters will have a greater opportunity to have their say in a referendum."
The volunteers from Waltag argue the trusts are a "legacy of old-style licensing laws".
They believe competition improves choice and reduce prices at bottle shops.
"Our research indicates West Aucklanders are paying about 10 per cent more for the same products than other Aucklanders, because there is no competition," said Smale.
"Countless people have said to me they drive to neighbouring suburbs to do their shopping because of the price difference."
Waltag has been around for more than a year. The arguments from both sides are, by now, well-rehearsed.
The trusts argue their existence means a carefully managed network of responsibly run and community-owned outlets. That caps the spread of alcohol and keeps profits where they were generated.
This financial year, they redistributed $2.5 million, more than a third through the annual Million Dollar Mission, when the public votes on which community groups get grants. The total return will rise to $3.5m in the following 12 months.
Waltag, which says it has no political affiliations or commercial interests, alleges a lack of transparency, scrutiny and accountability around the trusts.
It claims the average annual profit in each of the last five years was $6.35m, with $786,000 — 12 per cent — given back.
Furthermore, it says the community return is low compared to revenue and the value of assets: Despite cash and assets valued at around $100m, the trusts returned just $1.1m to the community in 2017/18.
However, Wickham said audited accounts show assets valued at $67m. That includes property, managed fund investments, cash, stock and more.
"Obviously not all these assets directly generate profit. Cash levels fluctuate but we must retain a level of cash in the business to pay for stock, wages and other operating costs.
"It's important for people to understand that our giving back is not determined by the cash and assets in the business, so that is not an accurate measure of our performance."
Wickham said the budget for the 2019/20 financial year earmarked 68 per cent of profits for giving back, about two-thirds now with the rest invested to increase the future return.
"We don't give back all profit – no business should. It is crucial to invest in the future of this community-owned business as well."
Wickham rejected Waltag's allegation about transparency, scrutiny and accountability.
The trusts are governed by elected community members and the Million Dollar Mission gets 200,000 public votes every year, he said.
A monthly magazine about the trusts goes to every West Auckland household and independently audited financial statements are available online.
"We've taken on board some of the comments and are trying to present more information in easily-read formats and are putting more information on our website for people who are interested.
"We are confident there is no other liquor retailer that takes giving back this seriously, other than licensing trusts."