COMMENT: Local government is huge, with a massive $113 billion under its wing in ratepayer equity. This monster is poised to keep growing, fed by rate increases which outstrip inflation, staff numbers surging ahead of job growth for the economy as a whole and too much focus on often ill-considered and unnecessary extracurricular activities and pet projects rather than the must do now and must do better.
Its creep has broadened in recent years into areas that it has no business to be in. Leave us our community assets such as city parks, regional parks, public swimming baths, playgrounds and volcanic viewing shafts, but get more business-like, transparent and accountable in how rates are spent.
Show us you know what back to basics means with wise decision-making. Show us how councils can earn the optimum return on investment by owning big strategic assets such as airports, ports and water companies and prioritise funding of essential infrastructure and services that will feed economic growth. Show us you understand what you mean when you say you will not sell strategic assets like ports and airports but are willing to sell off play grounds and sports fields - strategic assets for today's children and tomorrow's leaders.
Public dissatisfaction with the way councils in New Zealand spend our money has slipped to an approval rate of just 27 per cent in the latest Local Government New Zealand Survey of 3000 individual ratepayers and businesses.
Auckland's Citizen Insight Monitor Q1 2018 scorecard has just 18 per cent of ratepayers positively disposed to how the council spends ratepayers' money, 22 per cent trust decision making and 22 per cent are satisfied with performance.
Those perceptions are hardly surprising and for once Jafas are on an equal footing with other people in knowing what services are core to their needs and wants. It's the boring stuff they want: water, rubbish and sewerage.
And if we did boring well, we probably would not see some of the bad spending decisions made by councils.
Dunedin Council spent $8000 on an Ed Sheeran mural. Did they think this would make their city more liveable? And did Auckland Council believe it would make a palpable difference to economic development or attract more skilled migrants when it spent $500,000 on a new brand story that never got told despite having 200-plus communications specialists with a $45m annual budget at the ready? And, really, did Auckland need to spend $100,000 on that reputation monitor to tell them how few people had faith in them?
The award for bad decision-making, though, must go to Westland District Council for giving a cake decorator's firm a contract to build a $7m sewage plant. The icing on the cake of bad decisions.
Get your houses in order, councils, and stop this assault on ratepayers and residents with additional bed taxes, toilet taxes, fuel taxes, hiking service costs and asset fire sales. Just do the business - the essentials - without fuss or diversion and sleight of hand to move costs off the balance sheet unless you can come up with some really smart thinking to create investment opportunities for private public partnerships or infrastructure bonds for instance.
Waste not, want not. We don't need baubles and ratepayer money used for anything but the essentials and to deliver the core services efficiently and cost effectively. To really labour the point, we need the bread and butter, boring stuff that makes life liveable, supports growth and drives momentum.
• Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Business Chamber.