Quangos are costing us

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QLDC subsidiaries spend extra $585 per ratepayer on staff, vehicles, plant.

The quango-isation of Queens­town Lakes District Council has cost ratepayers an arm and a leg.

Staff wages, vehicles, equipment and interest shot up nearly $15 million in QLDC’s last financial year – $11.6m of it down to council quangos.

That $11.6m is approximately $585 from each of QLDC’s 19,836 ratepaying properties.

And it doesn’t include capital costs of building major projects, such as the new Alpine Aqualand swim centre.

The revelations come in QLDC’s newly released annual report for the year to June 30, 2008.

Those quangos – or “subsidiaries”, as council boss Duncan Field prefers – are Queenstown Airport Corporation, son-of-CivicCorp Lakes Environmental, swimming pool and playing fields operator Lakes Leisure, and Lakes Engineering.

This last quango was aban­­­doned as a failed experiment earlier this month, with QLDC announcing Lakes Engineering staff will transfer to the council payroll.

Wages, vehicles and equipment costs all more than doubled.

The council and its quangos, which Field together calls the “QLDC group”, spent $12.4m on wages last fiscal year – a whisker over 100 per cent more than the previous year. The payroll is thought to have increased since.

Field himself was awarded a 14.5 per cent hike – his package now costs ratepayers $293,466.

Group plant and equipment also soared 104 per cent to $9m, and vehicles were up 133 per cent to $1.5m.

Quangos alone spent more than $1.1m on vehicles.

By contrast, QLDC libraries spent just $128,000 on new books, $7000 more than previously.

To pay for its empire-building, QLDC and its clones socked ratepayers and residents hard. Income from rates and user charges jumped 22 per cent to $55m.

But borrowings also climbed almost vertically – total debt is up 91 per cent to $92m, with interest more than doubling at $6m.

Nevertheless, despite its huge jump in costs, QLDC still coined it.

The entire group delivered a bottom line of $25.4m – a rise of 21 per cent.

“It is not a profit,” intones Field in his accompanying report.

“… The surplus is a committed portion of council expenditure.”

An independent observer might more realistically label it “pre-spent profit”.

In these grim economic times, with QLDC supposedly trying to tighten its bulging belt, City Hall appears coy over these latest financial results.

While an annual report is one of two significant documents all councils must produce for public scrutiny, there’s been a surprising lack of QLDC fanfare this time.

The report was quietly dropped into an obscure pigeon-hole on QLDC’s website late last year without any announcement.

Most of the figures in this story are buried deep in the notes to the financial statements.