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Mayor’s proposal points to new costs for Auckland ratepayers

Media release

Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Mayor’s proposal points to new costs for Auckland ratepayers

“It’s encouraging that Auckland Mayor Len Brown is forecasting future debt down and is committed to containing rates increases, but Aucklanders need to keep an eye on future money grabs such as ongoing regulatory fee increases, targeted rates, and tolling the existing motorway network, says Auckland Councillor for Orakei Cameron Brewer, responding to the Mayor’s proposal for the draft Long-Term Plan 2015-2025 released today.

“It’s encouraging that the Mayor’s adopting a more constrained funding envelope approach for the likes of CCO and departmental budgets. However let’s not axe great community capital projects, and retain a raft of soft operational overheads such as all the bureaucratic non-core business this council involves itself in.

“Let’s stop being a soft touch when it comes to under-writing projects with ratepayers’ money – projects like a state house sculpture on Queens Wharf or a Skypath over the harbour bridge. Let’s also be careful that we don’t pour too much into CBD beautification projects.

“Hopefully this funding envelope approach will see better containment of staff numbers and costs. At amalgamation, no one foresaw that our staff numbers would reach nearly 11,000 and our annual wage and salary bill hit $719m. We need to get on top of this significant overhead.

“Ratepayers were never promised things would be cheaper under amalgamation, but they expected to see some serious containment of cost and hopefully that is now forthcoming after costly escalations on many fronts over the past four years.

“Many in the formal Auckland City Council area have been hit the hardest with rates increases over the past four years with those wards seeing an average compounding increase of around 20% since amalgamation. Many have endured much much more.

“Wards like mine have been very patient but that patience is fast running out. The best way to ensure greater fairness is to lift the Uniform Annual General Charge. That is long overdue. Many of the former councils had high ones. We have a very low UAGC. I believe a higher fixed component of rates would better reflect all Aucklanders’ equal access to council services, amenities, and infrastructure. This will be a big debate when we get to rating policy in October.

“I’m encouraged that the Mayor is committed to continue to narrow the business rating differential – a commitment that has long been given to the business community. Giving business a fairer go is important as let’s not forget Auckland is the country’s commercial capital.

“It’s great that the Mayor is going to review our non-strategic assets such as council’s car-parks but if we are honest with ourselves and committed to turning over every stone we would also look at some of our more strategic assets.

“Let’s look at selling some old family silver to buy some new family silver. I personally believe we should at least investigate the prospect of a partial sell down of the operating business of Ports Of Auckland when the time is right. Why can’t we at least investigate the possibility? Without doubt the film studios need to sold sooner rather than later to the private sector.

“On our public transport spend going forward, I think we need to achieve a much better balance. It’s staggering in this current 14/15 financial year 84% of Auckland Transport’s public transport capital budget is going into rail, when you factor in the City Rail Link and the new electric trains. Yet only 1.6% of Auckland commuters catch the train. We need greater balance.

“I would like to see more going into the likes of regional busways, ferry facilities, cycleways and walkways. However the reality is the downtown City Rail Link will gobble up much of our capital, debt and focus to the detriment of other modes. What’s more it’s operational cost is still largely unknown, but will be enormous.

“On the City Rail Link, I believe we should be working to the Government’s more realistic timetable of starting construction in 2020. Let’s sort out the funding first and then start construction, not the other way around.

“While it’s encouraging that the Mayor is vowing to place greater emphasis on reining in rates increases and debt, the public now needs to keep an eye on local projects, future local government costs, and make sure they have their say on draft Long Term Plan early next year,” says Mr Brewer

Ends


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