Local government

By Eric Crampton 21/07/2015

I like the idea of strengthening local government. There should be better links between Council performance and Council revenues, to both encourage and facilitate local economic growth. And central government should have an open door should local bodies wish some regulatory abatement to help them achieve growth.

Palmerston North wants central government to ban smoking outside of cafes, restaurants and bars; they also wanted central government to put a compulsory levy on plastic bags. Both proposals earned strong favour among LGNZ delegates. 
If your starting impression of local government were that they weren’t particularly competent and tended to focus on silly things instead of core infrastructure, and that they’d waste any new money directed towards them, well, I’m not sure this would change views for the better. 
Next was a proposal that central government subsidise council waterworks. There could be merit to it if costly projects are sometimes due to central government regulatory mandates rather than something wanted by the local community, but without that link, well, I’d like other people to pay for my stuff too.
The last one reported by Chris Hutching at the NBR is that local authorities should be able to charge rates against Crown-owned properties. This one should be taken seriously. Crown-owned land can be a sizeable chunk of some communities’ ratings base, loading more costs onto other ratepayers. But I’d love to see it tweaked, just a little. Make it a trade. Councils get to apply rates to Crown-owned land in their area. But, at the same time, they have to assess Council-owned properties, apply the same rates to them, and remit those rates to Central government.
Both local bodies and central government own a pile of poorly used land. Having to pay each other rates on them could encourage better land use. And we then might not have quite so many surface parking lots where a parkade under an office tower might be a better use of the land. You could tweak it to exempt so many square meters per resident if you wanted to not penalise places for having a few parks. At the margin, keeping high value land in low value uses should be discouraged.