Local authority functions and finances and incentives for intimacy

Over the last couple of days we have had the announcement of impending legislation requiring local authorities to “stick to their knitting of supplying infrastructure, libraries and museums”.

The Prime Minister and the Minister of Local Government both imply that the activities of councils in looking after the social, environmental, economic and cultural wellbeing of the citizens are responsible for the extra cost burden and rising rates.

Not so. Last time I looked at the financial statements of our council I found that it is the infrastructure of sewerage, stormwater, water and roads which is taking up the bulk of the expenditure. Our own council plans to spend $100 million in stormwater infrastructure over the next 20 years for our town of 5000 inhabitants. They cite climate change as being one of the factors, together with a growing population and an ageing infrastructure. Our town is built over a swamp.

I don’t think the Prime Minister or the Minister of Local Government mentioned the extra expense in dealing with climate change. Nor did they mention the continuing growth of population in this country or the GST that ratepayers have to pay. And 12% of council’s expenditure is for servicing loans to private banks issuing them with money. Unnecessary when they could create their own Rates Vouchers (but that is another topic). But what strikes me most is when I think of this in association with today’s Listener article on the growing social trend of single person households. New Zealand it says now has 23 percent of households as single person households, this percentage is growing and it is a global trend.

OK so for every house we have water reticulation, sewerage reticulation, and stormwater management. Basic infrastructure, the council’s main expenditure. If the number of single person households is increasing and the population is increasing and the standards for sewage treatment and water quality keep rising, then it stands to reason the costs will keep rising.

For every extra dwelling that is occupied, there is a house, its furnishings, a fridge, a washing machine, a motor mower and probably a car. More purchases, more expense. Not the Council’s expense but it does add to per household expenditure if the trend is to single person households. But the council has to pave more roads. This means buying more bitumen, which being an oil based product, has already risen in price by 95% in the last decade. And the cost of pipes has risen fast.

I have yet to hear of a politician at local authority level who addresses the issue of how to economise on infrastructure investment through giving incentives for households to have more than one person occupying them. Already we have a welfare system which penalises intimacy. You get more income from WINZ if you separate. We all know why. A stupid welfare mess is part of the problem which can only be solved with a citizens income.

Given the realities of local authority finances, it stands to reason that political parties must build in incentives for efficiency in housing. Efficiency is what Nature does best. Nothing is wasted.