Auckland Council has been accused of "dishonest and misrepresentative" behaviour in passing the recent rates hike of 3.5 per cent.
A formal complaint has been lodged against Colmar Brunton and the council, by the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance, alleging that council claims about alleged public "support" for rates increases were false and exaggerated.
Spokesperson Jo Holmes said despite Colmar Brunton's third-party involvement in surveying Aucklanders' thoughts on the rate increases, the survey options were limited.
"Respondents to the survey were only given two options to choose from; a 2.5 per cent rates increase or a 3.5 per cent rates increase," she said in a statement.
"Respondents were not given the option to express a preference for 0 per cent (rates freeze) or a reduction (our preferred option)."
Auckland Council's claims following the survey results - that 89 per cent of Aucklanders supported a rates increase - were misrepresentative of the city-dwellers' actual thoughts, as they were not able to express a preference for a rates freeze or reduction, Holmes said.
"The survey cannot be said to accurately reflect the views of Aucklanders given its biased framing, which basically forced respondents to choose between one of two increases."
The community group has formally complained to the Research Association of New Zealand, citing the association's Industry Code of Practice.
Kenneth Aiolupotea, Auckland Council's head of citizen engagement and insights said survey respondents were only asked on the two specific rate options as the council was only consulting on those options.
"Rates increases below 2.5 per cent, including a rates freeze, were not options proposed by council and therefore not included in the survey," he said in a statement.
"This was due to the severe impact this would have on council's services, new infrastructure, our debt levels and other business activities.
"This explanation was included in the survey, official information available to the public and in media communications during the consultation period."
Aiolupotea said it was inappropriate to comment further as the complaint was now being considered by the Research Association.
Auckland Council approved its "emergency budget" late last week, including a 3.5 per cent rates increase.
The council's plan involved cutting a total 1100 staff across council and services, with 600 contingency workers already notified and a further 500 job cuts yet to be given notice.
It was forking out $239 million in capital expenditure and $15m in operating expenses to cover infrastructure for securing Auckland's water supply.
The budget contains cuts to services and projects to plug a massive hole that grew from $525 million due to the Covid crisis to $750m, to provide extra water for the worst drought in the city's history.
Aucklanders will notice lower service levels with the 3.5 per cent rates rise, such as reduced cleaning and maintenance around parks and town centres.
Household rates will rise by about 4.4 per cent and water bills are set to rise due to the impacts of Covid-19 and the drought crisis.
Rising waste management costs in different parts of the city and a plan to lower business rates by gradually increasing household rates means household rates will increase by between 4.3 per cent and 4.45 per cent under the 3.5 per cent rates option.
In dollar terms, the average household rates bill in the old Auckland City and Manukau City areas will rise by about $130 and $110 in other parts of the city.
The Auckland Ratepayers Alliance earlier called the increase a "betrayal," saying a pandemic was not the time to raise council taxes.
On Tuesday, Auckland Council said the 3.5 per cent increase would ensure that, despite the Covid crunch, critical council services such as keeping libraries open and investment in transport safety infrastructure, among other things, could continue.
Josephine Bartley, councillor for the Maungakiekie-Tāmaki Local Board area, said the emergency budget conversation was one in which "no one wins".
"Throughout lockdown and now through economic upheaval, it is clear that our communities are struggling, yet the majority still saw the need for the rates increase because they didn't want to lose services, and didn't want to see transport and infrastructure projects put on hold."
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