12 Oct 2017

Watchdog group takes back high Auckland rates claim

1:45 pm on 12 October 2017

A ratepayer watchdog group in Auckland admits it was wrong to say the city has the second highest rates in the country.

The Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance claimed the council tried to deliberately mislead the public in the way it provided figures for annual council rates league tables, compiled by the Taxpayers' Union.

The figures initially excluded water rates, which in Auckland are billed separately by the council's water company.

Auckland Rates

A ratepayer watchdog group in Auckland admits it was wrong to say the city has the second highest rates in the country. Photo: RNZ

The correction elevated Auckland Council from about one third of the way down the list of the country's highest rating councils, to second.

"It appears the council has coordinated responses to deliberately mislead the public on what the average ratepayer pays," said the alliance's spokeswoman Jo Holmes.

However, Ms Holmes told RNZ her own statement was not strictly true.

Jo Holmes of Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance.

Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance spokeswoman Jo Holmes. Photo: Facebook

Auckland Council is one of only five unitary councils in the country, which charge rates for local and regional council functions.

That means its rate cannot be directly compared with the 61 other councils surveyed.

Auckland Council's average residential rate, including water charges, is the highest of the five Unitary Councils at $3210, ahead of Tasman District on $3056.

The Ratepayers Alliance complained to the Auckland Council that it failed to supply, as requested, an average rates figure that also includes an average annual water and wastewater bill.

Auckland's previously published figure without water and sewerage costs had been $2340.

"They tried to pull the wool over people's eyes," Ms Holmes told RNZ.

"Auckland Council attempted to come out looking better off by choosing to conceal these charges from their figures, even though they said it was included," said Ms Holmes in an email to Alliance followers.

However, Ms Holmes told RNZ it was the council which pro-actively contacted the Taxpayers' Union once the list was published, and it became clear the wrong figure had been published.

Auckland Council rejects the claim of misleading the group.

They said when approached last year, it provided the rates figures and told the group that its water company, Watercare, would provide the water costs, which it did.

This year when the same request came through, it referred the group to its previous year's advice.

The council said when the league table was published, it proactively contacted the Taxpayers' Union, pointing out the error and supplying the missing water costs.