Auckland Council has been holding "stakeholder" meetings this week. Community groups, business groups, you name it, all trooping to the big meeting room on the top floor of the town hall to have their say.
The Auckland Ratepayers' Association (ARA) had their say. They brought along an enormous pile of paper. Thousands of copies of submissions from supporters who believe the council is misleading us and wasting our money.
Councillor Cathy Casey was intrigued, and came round to take a closer look.
"They're all the same!" she declared.
No, said Jordan Williams, who was representing the ratepayer group, although he lives in Wellington so he isn't an Auckland ratepayer. He said the ARA invited people to visit their website, upload the "template" and modify it according to their own views, using their own words.
Casey took the pile back to her desk and sifted through it. Most of the pieces of paper were indeed identical, she said, bar the signature. The most common exception was where the submitter had added a personal note of abuse. Mayor Phil Goff is just like Hitler, apparently.
"We haven't censored them," explained Williams helpfully.
"With some of them you'll need a strong stomach."
Williams is the kind of man who bares all his teeth at you when he smiles.
Councillor Ross Clow observed that council has a mechanism for dealing with "pro forma" submissions.
"They're counted," he said, "but in a special way."
He meant if you write your own submission they might take more account of it than if you go to the website of your favourite group, tick a couple of boxes, add your name and press send. Good thinking, if you ask me.
The meeting was an end point to the current round of public consultation on the council's 10-year-budget, which finished this week. Officials have now begun to assess the tens of thousands of submissions they've received, from all quarters, and will revise the draft budget accordingly.
That will be back for much more council and public debate in the coming months.
As for the Ratepayers' presentation, it was entertaining for that silly palaver with the pile of paper but it was significant for other reasons.
According to Williams, Mayor Goff misled the city in his election campaign in 2016 when he proposed to cut council spending by three to six per cent. If those cuts had happened, said Williams, council wouldn't need the special levies Goff is now proposing for new transport projects, water infrastructure and environmental measures including the campaign against kauri dieback.
It's true Goff's cuts – $373 million on the 10-year-budget – are more modest than his campaign promises, but are Goff and his council really the wastrels and spendthrifts ARA thinks they are?
Deputy mayor Bill Cashmore certainly didn't think so. He got pretty angry and asked Williams a string of questions to see what he knew about the budget.
Did Williams know what the average increase was per year in operating expenditure?
No he didn't.
It's one per cent. Did Williams know what the average population growth is in Auckland?
Again, no he didn't.
It's three per cent. Cashmore's point was that council is already keeping its spending below the level you might expect.
That draft 10-year budget is a tough document. When officials put it together all parts of council were advised they could nominate just one significant new spending project. Even so, Goff said last year, claims on the budget were more than double what could be accommodated.
So the knives came out. Goff has disappointed advocates of libraries, sports fields, the arts, social services, consenting services and many other council activities. But he has managed to keep them at least moderately functional. If the ARA got its way, all those areas would be decimated.
The big infrastructure projects would collapse too.
Clow had a question for Williams on that. Did the ARA believe Auckland has a huge infrastructure deficit?
"Yes we do," said Williams.
That was good to hear. Aucklanders know the cost of that deficit. We see it, stuck in traffic. We see it every time it rains and the drains flush sewage into the harbour. We know kauri dieback poses a critical threat to the city's much-loved beautiful bush.
Do we want these things to be addressed, as the budget proposes, or will we just rage against councillors who try?
Williams attacked the proposed regional fuel tax, which will hurt citizens who need to use a vehicle more than those who don't, and hurt those who drive older, less fuel-efficient cars more than everyone else. That burden will fall disproportionately on the suburbs that are poorer and further away from the centre. Remuera has a better bus service than Manurewa.
That's all true, and it's one reason the proposed tax must be temporary, and should be replaced by some form of variable pricing (like a congestion charge) as soon as possible.
But Williams then told the meeting the new public transport projects themselves are designed to help only those living close to the central city. That is simply not true. The benefit of the City Rail Link will primarily be to those further out on the rail lines, because it will allow the frequency of suburban service to increase.
Similarly, although light rail to the airport gets the easy headlines, the biggest value of the proposed new rapid transit routes will be to the suburbs in the west, east and south that they connect to employment catchments – including the airport precinct.
Spending on public transport is not a rort penalising poorer communities. It is the essential transport key to helping those communities.
Michael Barnett of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce also addressed the meeting this week. The number one causes of that huge infrastructure deficit, he said, is decades of neglect.
That was well said. Let's be frank about this. Although central government has ignored the needs of the growing city for many years, it is also true that until 2010 Aucklanders, on the whole, elected a series of councils that didn't believe in long-term spending, or even long-term planning.
They governed with a cavalier disregard for the needs of the city, just because there might be votes in it. They were too scared to spend enough.
Of course spending needs rigorous controls. But spending doesn't equal villainy. We need that infrastructure, and while central government can and will help, one way or another we have to help ourselves, by shouldering some of the cost of it.