Where are we going at this rate?
So what is it – more for less or less for more?
That’s the question worrying Auckland ratepayers as the council grooms its hundreds of thousands of property owners for first effects of new rating charges – linked for many homeowners with astronomic rises in property values that rates are based on.
When the not-so-super-city was foisted on us, the implication was clear – big savings by slashing duplication of staff and systems. More for less.
Apparently, now we’ve got fewer bureaucrats but rates are on the rise.
And the trend could go on for the whole of the 10 years of the council’s current planning process. The aim of the new budget is to cut hundreds of millions a year in running costs and capital investment.
Sounds great but at this stage it smacks rather too much of smoke and mirrors.
Big figures are involved: $300 million in the present year.
And grass roots spending is on hold – like a skate park at Riverhead; $84,377 for a new playground and toilet upgrades in Mangere East; $5786 for litter bins and $1.9 million on Mt Albert town centre. And even shorter hours in libraries.
The issue is not where we are now but where we may be going according to one expert, David Shand.
He was a member of the Royal Commission on Auckland Govern- ance. And he knows about rates, having chaired the 2007 Independent Commission of Inquiry into Local Government Rates.
This is how he responded when I went to him for a reaction.
‘‘The mayor and council should be congratulated on the consultative process they are initiating and the information they are supplying.
‘‘It is very important that Aucklanders understand the magnitude of the future investment that is required to have Auckland functioning adequately beyond the next 10 years.
‘‘We see already the impact of past political failures to adequately invest in infrastructure and maintain our assets.
‘‘It will be disastrous if we repeat these past mistakes.
‘‘And we need this debate about what is affordable and what sources of revenue are available.
‘‘Clearly we cannot meet these costs just through rates, although the 2.5 per cent proposed initial increase seems too modest.
‘‘If we want these assets and services we will have to pay our share through some rate increase. Auckland Council is already appropriately financing some infrastructure expansion by prudent borrowing. But new revenue sources will be needed to fill the gap.
‘‘First the Government must step up and contribute more. Secondly it should allow Auckland Council access to new sources of finance such as a regional petrol tax and highway tolling.
‘‘The debate has not been helped by the misleading and inaccurate information referring to Auckland city’s finances as a ‘ financial mess’ and ‘financial crisis’ put out by the Herald as part of its ongoing campaign against mayor Brown.
‘‘Auckland city’s finances are sound with prudent levels of borrowing, strongly performing financial assets such as shares in Auckland Airport and Ports of Auckland and the council more than delivering a balanced budget, as is required each year under the Local Government Act.
‘‘The issue is not where we are now, but where we may be going.
‘‘Some may believe that efficiency gains and cuts in staff numbers and salaries will solve the problem.
‘‘This is largely an illusion, contradicted by a number of inconvenient facts such as staff numbers of the Auckland Council being well below the combined total of the previous separate councils.
‘‘Hopefully, these facts will come out as part of the debate.’’
That’s what the expert says. Puzzling, eh? What’s it doing, promising or threatening you? Or don’t you know either?
Toll roads: David Shand says Auckland needs new sources of finance such as a regional petrol tax and highway tolling.