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Council Adopts New Direction With Birch Report

Design and stopping grass-verge mowing and the inorganic waste collection.

Mayor John Banks says the council faces a “mountain of debt” inevitably leading to a rates increase if action is not taken.

“The impact of increasing rates affects the poorest ratepayers and we’re going to ensure there is a compelling reason in the future for all expenditure.”

Finance and Corporate Business Committee chairperson Councillor Doug Armstrong says the review process will ensure that the council’s Strategic Plan only contains strategies that are funded and achievable.

The council has directed the chief executive to make 1 per cent efficiency savings on operational expenditure each year for the next three.

It has also agreed to review the resource consent process and district plan rules with a view to making Auckland the country’s best city in which to do business.

Birch report recommendations adopted include:

- Promoting a District Plan change to remove general tree protection - which Councillor Armstrong calls “extremely costly when most applications are approved after a heavily bureaucratic process”.

- Reducing expenditure on business improvement by $300,000 a year, project management and property facilities by $250,000 a year, and public affairs, communications and marketing by $2.5 million over three years.

- Discontinuing the organic waste collection coupon scheme from 2003.

- Fully recovering the cost of the Mainstreet programme but making money available for initial facilitation.

- Reviewing the use of chemical-free vegetation control that costs $1 million a year.

- Improving fiscal management through greater scrutiny of spending proposals.

The council will sell its 26 per cent stake in Auckland International Airport.

Councillor Armstrong says while the airport shares have been a good investment, the council has other pressing needs and it is time to redirect capital and reduce debt.

The chief executive will report on options for the sale including timing.

The council agreed that pensioner housing is an essential activity for central government, but not the council, and to sell the houses over a long period of time.

Existing tenants are guaranteed a council unit for the rest of their lives.

The council in its resolution says assisting individuals in need is a central government responsibility. Moving out of pensioner housing will save the council $2 million. Net rents above the Government’s accommodation supplement will increase by between $5 and $8 for single units and by 50c for couples.

The council has also agreed to move out of non-pensioner residential housing.

In line with the committee chairperson’s recommendations, the council did not, however, accept the review’s ideas in these areas:

- Community boards will not be reviewed and their funding for small projects will not be cut.

- There will not be a review of the rationale for arts, culture and recreation.

- The Edge community arts programme will not be cut by 33 per cent. Instead, the council will consider options for a 20 per cent reduction.

- Money for sponsoring events will not be cut by 33 per cent, however the council will review its criteria for events sponsorship.

- The biennial inorganic collection will not be stopped.

- Community Advice Bureau budgets will not be cut.

- The council will not exit from off-street parking or sell a number of parking buildings. The chief executive will review the council’s parking policy to see how parking rates can be brought in line with private car parks, and how the council’s parking assets can be made into a LATE, or Local Authority Trading Enterprise.

- City Design, the council’s engineering and architectural LATE, will not be sold. However, it will be required to pay the council an increased dividend.

As part of its annual planning process and in line with Birch recommendations, the council will review many of its operations.

It will review community hall charges, discretionary rate rebates, wastewater rate rebates, community development costs, library operations and also consider ways to introduce uniform annual rubbish collection charges.

Councillor Armstrong says much of work would have been undertaken as part of the normal annual planning process. The measures will allow the council to hold rates in real terms and provide a good system of governance.

ENDS


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