Where are we go­ing at this rate?

Auckland City Harbour News - - OPINION -

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.

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