If you're about to be hit with a rates increase, wherever you are in the country, I think you have good reason to be really grumpy with your local council.
Raising rates in this current economic climate is unbelievable.
The most recent example of this is Auckland Council, yesterday voting to increase rates by 3.5 per cent. In doing that, they've ignored their own ratepayers: two thirds of submitters asked them not to raise rates by that much.
The council has all the excuses in the world for why rates have to go up.
But actually, it doesn't have to be like this. We don't have to, and shouldn't, accept an increase as if there is no other option.
Let me tell you about Horowhenua District Council.
These guys are actually decreasing rates this year, by 1.83 per cent.
That's what their ratepayers asked them to do. So they took a scalpel to their costs, in the same way that probably many of their ratepayers might have to do if they lose their jobs post-Covid.
The council has cut $1.3m from their wage bill. They're only hiring essential new workers and everyone else is on a pay freeze.
They've cut back on buying new things: there won't be as many new books in the library, there won't be as many new cars for council staff, or new furniture in the offices. And nor should there be, when their ratepayers are potentially unable to buy new books, new cars and new furniture either.
We asked Auckland's mayor last night why he couldn't emulate Horowhenua's cost cutting. He said it wasn't possible because the Auckland region is growing. Well, so is Horowhuena. It's in the top third of the fastest-growing districts in the country.
The fact is, Auckland's rates are going up because the council can't be bothered taking the pain like Horowhenua's leaders are prepared to. Auckland council wants to freeze pay but hasn't been able to – union stuff maybe - there are still at least five people there earning more than the Prime Minister, and the operating budget – which pays for libraries etc - that's going up by 5 per cent.
They've demonstrated a complete inability to prepare for a rainy day by reducing debt and setting funds aside for inevitable infrastructure projects. They've just taken a free $196 million from central government and it's still not enough.
So, if your rates bill is going up this year while ratepayers are losing their jobs, it's not because rate rises are inevitable. It's because your council isn't prepared to cut enough costs, simple as that.