The Western Front
A recent analysis of local government issues noted that house prices trebled in seventeen years.
Building costs doubled, labour costs doubled and section costs went up five times. If we look deeper, the cost of the land has barely doubled at all but consents and compliance cost have risen eight-fold. Sections that were $30,000 dollars are now advertised over $200,000. This has spelt the end of first home buyers saving to buy sections and offering them as security for mortgages.
Our first answer to the high cost of sections was infill housing but this has been done to death in our towns. A $30,000 quarter acre is now two or three sections, providing councils with a ten-fold increase in income off the original land. This income came without the need to provide any new roads or water reticulation. A little care with stormwater and perhaps an upgrade of the sewerage systems but this period of growth was a great time for council dreams. The consequences of their spending and poor growth management have become our nightmare, with rising council debt and rates out of control.
Large development projects that seemed the next answer to our unaffordable housing were saddled with the responsibility of core infrastructure for their projects. When the developments foundered, ratepayers have been left with massive core servicing problems and mounting debt that has been the root cause of government threats to reorganise councils.
Targeted rates, a third failed strategy where the rates are supposed to be used for projects in the area they are collected, does not work with phantom populations. Another solution, intergenerational debt where we are loading up our children’s debt, has become a joke when we hear of student protests this week. They are seeking intergenerational justice with respect to their fees and conditions. They don’t want extra debt now and they won’t want our debt in their future.
The current council structures are only recent and were developed in the growth era. Previously local council representatives in towns made decisions and were the embodiment of local solutions for local people. Local people built their town halls, swimming baths and even boat ramps. Today, the economic health of towns is not on the radar and every move has to be administered from a central office. In the case of Western Bay, the office isn’t in the district and most of the people working there don’t even live in the district. We can only look on in wonder as decisions are made of the type that directed that public lawns in Katikati should to be mowed by a contractor from Tokoroa.
We are sick of being offered presents that we never asked for, don’t understand and are going to have to pay for. We don’t trust a council who is clinging to a growth-dependent philosophy and seem bereft of any initiative to support communities in these times of austerity. The recent words of the Long Term Plan give a good indication of this impoverished thinking. We were asked to make decisions and take responsibility for cutting down their project lists. We were given the responsibility for the tough decisions. Where are our leaders when we need them?
It is good to see the council has rewritten the job description and delegated responsibilities of community boards. This should encourage much more leadership at community level but the list has just been slipped on the website with no explanation and most have never seen it. This could be the start of something new or it could just be management trying to cover its backside. We will be watching this space but it may just be a case of council mooning our moaning.