Hutt Valley tops for ratepayer value

MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 05:00 11/06/2014

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Hutt Valley ratepayers may not necessarily get a better deal if they end up joining a Wellington region super-city, according to data collected by the Taxpayers' Union.

The two Hutt Valley councils were the shining lights of the Wellington region this past year when it came to providing ratepayers with value, union executive director Jordan Williams said.

The union and Fairfax Media today co-launched Ratepayers' Report - an online tool that compares council performance across the nation.

Williams said the variables measured did not present a definitive case for or against amalgamating the entire Wellington region. But they did show the Hutt City Council and Upper Hutt City Council were doing well in areas such as debt, operating expenditure and financial costs.

"It would seem strange if the Hutt councils wanted to merge with Wellington, if you assume that Wellington will become the centre of power," he said.

"Residents in the Hutt Valley would be reasonably pleased about how their councils came out of this."

The data showed Wellington City Council was spending more on employees and debt compared with both the national average and the average for councils with populations over 100,000.

But when council-controlled organisations and investment companies were factored in, Wellington city came out more favourably, compared with other large councils. "I think Wellington's debt is probably reaching the upper limit . . . for every Wellington ratepayer, the council owes $7547," Williams said.

The average residential rates bill in Wellington city this past financial year was $2163, while Hutt City ratepayers forked out $2006 and Upper Hutt ratepayers $1733.

Porirua city had the largest average residential rates bill in the region at $2344, trumping Kapiti Coast ($2173), South Wairarapa ($2178), Carterton ($2220) and Masterton ($2046).

Williams said the high cost of residential rates in Porirua, compared with Wellington, was a surprise given the relative wealth of the two areas.

But he noted that Wellington had a lot more ability to subsidise its residential rates with commercial rates than other parts of the region did.

The one thing that stood out for the Taxpayers' Union after analysing the data was a big question mark over the value ratepayers were getting from regional councils, Williams said.

Unitary councils, which perform the services of both a regional council and territorial authority, were not that much more expensive than large city councils, according to the data.

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"We cannot find a correlation between bigger is better or the converse," he said.

"So if cheaper rates is [driving the push for amalgamation], at least from a residential perspective, you may be better to stick with what you've got."

Wellington city ratepayers would also be right to question whether their city council was overstaffed, Williams said.

In Wellington there were 65 ratepayers for every member of staff, compared with 85 in Christchurch and 87 in Auckland. That may translate into more face-to-face interaction for people in the capital, he said.

But that came at a cost and it was questionable whether Wellingtonians were getting a better service.

- The Dominion Post

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