Every single day, I see someone complain online about Auckland. The complaints are usually about rates, spending or transport, but most of the complaints aren’t based on reality, and that’s because they don’t know the reality of what they're complaining about.
I completely understand how people can be frustrated by rising rates bills (rates are similar to what we called “property taxes” in Illinois). Often related to that, but not always, people also complain about rising expenditures. Cut expenses, the complainers say, and rates could come done.
Well, maybe, but at what larger cost?
Most people, I think it’s safe to say, have absolutely no idea how much of what local governments do is dictated by central government in Wellington. Very often, they have little leeway in determining how to enforce the laws that Parliament has passed.
Still, local councils do have quite a bit of independence in determining local priorities, local spending, and how it will be paid for. This is where we get into real strife in the online world. Everything that one person values, someone else will think is an extravagant luxury, so there’s a tremendous minefield that local governments have to wade through.
They can decide to close libraries, or drastically cut back their opening hours, or they could to the same with swimming pools, or maybe museums, or maybe they could mow public parks less often, or sell them off, or maybe they could delay repairs to streets and footpaths, or how about they could cut programmes to help the poor, or children, or the elderly… I made that sentence run on and on because the debates do, too.
The point here is simple: If we want rates bills to go down, then we must cut public services. If we want the public services, then rates bills will go up. So, how are people to make their views known? How are they to determine where Auckland is headed, or whether it’s to wither on the vine?
All local governments are required to get feedback from residents and ratepayers, and this is a core part of the long-term plan each council must prepare. Yet, most people never make a submission. Heck, the vast majority of people don’t even bother to vote in local elections, yet they still complain that they’re “not being heard”! Maybe if they bothered to have their say they COULD be heard.
The Auckland complainers I see also seem to believe that the mayor alone sets rates or spending—he doesn’t, Council does. I wonder how many Aucklanders even know who their Councillor on the Governing Body is? I bet it’s a minority.
Below the Governing Body are the Local Boards doing the hard work of consulting with residents and ratepayers to determine what can be cut, and how to prioritise the rest. I made a submission to my Local Board when they wanted feedback on how to prioritise spending because I wanted my say. I haven't asked, but I assume that they didn’t get a lot of submissions.
In a democracy, talk is cheap. Obviously everyone has the right to complain, but if they complain without doing anything to change the situation they’re complaining about, how can they expect to be taken seriously? Complaining online might be an emotional release, but it isn’t going to change anything.
If people really care about where they live, then they ought to show it—they shouldn't just complain, but DO. There are plenty of ways to become informed about issues, though sometimes people outside the mainstream media do a better job of informing us. Sure, it takes some effort and some dedication, but asking people to at least vote isn’t asking too much of anyone, I don't think. It’s a place to start, at least.