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Herald on Sunday editorial: Rates debate should be open

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Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

The leaders of the new Auckland Supercity were always going to face some big decisions. Merging eight different rating systems has long been foreshadowed as one of them.

Their proposal came out this week and there will be shock - and relief - across the city. Rates for homeowners in pricey innercity suburbs will go up an average 14 to 16 per cent from next year, while West Aucklanders face a decrease of about the same level.

Mayor Len Brown is breeding a city of winners and losers. Losers include Mt Eden, Mt Albert, Mt Roskill, Remuera, Howick and the North Shore. Winners are Waitakere, Pukekohe, Manurewa, Papakura and Rodney.

Brown says he is expecting a "very noisy" response from those worst affected.

In his South Auckland parlance, and it is fitting bearing in mind the topic, he will have plenty of detractors "in the house".

With so many things affecting Auckland's rates this time - the need for one system, new property valuations out this week, uniform and user charges, targeted rates and business differentials - it will be tough for the average householder to understand why their payments are going so steeply up, or down.

They must have ready access to how this all might affect them so they have the ability to budget. They also need transparency on where the money is going, and why.

On the first score, Brown's team is setting up a calculator on the council website so people can find out what they are potentially up for. That should at least provide a degree of clarity.

The jury is out on the second score - explanation of council spending and why it is needed.

It hasn't started well. Brown took his council into two days of "secret workshops", as councillor Chris Fletcher called them, to discuss the draft long-term plan for Auckland, on which rates for the next 10 years will be based. The New Zealand Herald led its Friday edition with news of the potential rates rises, but there was also some cautionary reading for councillors on p3.

There, an Audit New Zealand report gave a damning review of how the Hamilton City Council had handled the V8 races it won off Pukekohe a few years ago.

Hamilton is now one of the country's most indebted councils, and nearly $40 million of that $200 million-plus debt is down to the V8 folly.

Audit NZ said council management was responsible for poor reporting and that councillors held too many meetings from which the public was excluded and failed to ask hard enough questions of officials.

Interestingly, the former Hamilton mayor, then chief executive, Michael Redman, was the boss of the Auckland Council's events and tourism arm, Ateed - until Friday.

His reputation was tarnished by the Audit report and he resigned. It must be said though that he did a lot of good in Waikato. He united one of the nation's most divided cities.

At last year's local body election however, Hamilton's mayor, Bob Simcock, who worked closely with Redman, finished up being turfed out as the true costs of the V8s became apparent, costs it turns out councillors did not fully know.

Back in the big smoke, Brown's aim is to make Auckland "the world's most liveable city".

The success of the rugby and the buzz on the streets demonstrate that is possible.

Billions are pencilled in for transport initiatives and $123 million has been earmarked to attract other RWC-type events and market the city.

However, tens of thousands are facing higher bills to pay for this.

They deserve better than to have their elected officials locked away sorting out how they're going to sell it before emerging into the light. Remember how the Hamilton story finished?

- Herald on Sunday

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