Supersized rates bill for super city

By Bernard Orsman

A single rates system and a single rates bill are part of the proposed radical overhaul of Auckland's local government, but reducing the number of councils will not lead to reduced rates.

The region's four big-city mayors yesterday unveiled their plan to set up a Greater Auckland Council and reduce the region's seven councils to three.

But they did not detail the costs and benefits to the region's 480,000 ratepayers.

Buried in an appendix to their plan is the warning that, like business rationalisation, cost benefits are not always achieved in practice and transitional arrangements could cost more rather than less.

In a letter to Prime Minister Helen Clark last week, the mayors said the debate over rates was one of the reasons for their plans to "front-foot" the issue of governance reform but not the core issue.

The letter says the focus must be on a structure that removes "the conflicting, confusing and overlapping responsibilities" between the Auckland Regional Council and the region's city and district councils.

ARC chairman Mike Lee, whose regional body would be abolished next year under the plan, said it was a reaction by the mayors to protect themselves from widespread disillusionment and anger at soaring rates.

Mr Lee said the ARC, which had had the lowest rates increases in the region for the past two years, was "being lined up for the hatchet".

Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard, whose council has raised household rates by 25 per cent in two years, said it would be "totally wrong to promise rates reductions" without knowing the details of the new rating system.

Under the plan, the Greater Auckland Council would control a single rating system, collecting money for itself and for each city council.

There could be a core component for the greater council and a varying component for each council to pay for specific needs, such as a new swimming pool.

Aucklanders now pay rates to their local council and a separate rate to the Auckland Regional Council.

The issue of water and wastewater costs - some councils operate user-pays systems, others pay for water from rates - was one of the many issues to be worked out under the new structure, Mr Hubbard said.

As reported in the Herald yesterday, the core of the plan involves abolishing the ARC and replacing it at next year's local body elections with the Greater Auckland Council, run by a mixed of elected and appointed business leaders, headed by a Lord Mayor elected by all the region's voters.

The mayors suggested having three or four cities to replace the regions's four cities and three districts, although they favoured the three-city scheme. This would not happen until after next year's local body elections.

The plan was presented to Helen Clark, key Cabinet ministers and senior Wellington officials on Thursday.

Mr Lee, the mayors of Franklin, Papakura and Rodney, councillors and all but a handful of council officers saw the plan yesterday.

Mr Hubbard said the new structure would streamline governance, speed up progress in the region and future-proof Auckland.

"It's a historic point in time and we have just got to run with it," Mr Hubbard said.

"If it doesn't happen now, it won't happen in the foreseeable future."

It emerged yesterday that the mayors asked the Government to postpone next year's local body elections for two years so the entire plan could be implemented.

But Helen Clark told them this was not feasible.

The mayors have decided not to hold a referendum on the biggest local government shake-up since 1989, saying it would slow the progress of setting up the greater council, affect planning for the 2011 Rugby World Cup and "could potentially derail the process".

Manukau Mayor Sir Barry Curtis said Auckland urgently needed a new governance structure and strategy plan to create social, economic, environmental and cultural outcomes and to make Auckland into a world-class city.

Mr Harvey said putting the future of Waitakere City on the table was a supreme sacrifice, but he would work to ensure the city's eco-spirit was kept alive.

Waitakere is absorbed into the North Shore and central cities under the three-city plan.

Said North Shore Mayor George Wood: "The region needs a well co-ordinated, overarching plan. The community seeks the strong leadership that this proposal will enhance."


THE MAYORS' PLAN

Greater Auckland Council

Headed by Lord Mayor elected at large.

Council to include elected representatives, Minister for Auckland (with no voting rights), business leaders and others appointed by Government.

Responsible for strategic plans, regional assets and council-controlled organisations.

Funds museums, the zoo, surf lifesaving and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

Sets rates using a single rating system.

Sets up shared services such as computer systems and rubbish.

Involves abolishing Auckland Regional Council and setting up the greater council at next year's local body elections.


Local Councils

Reduce the four city councils and three district councils after next year's local body elections.

Preference for a three-city model: Counties/Manukau (includes Papakura District Council and parts of Franklin District Council), Auckland Central (Auckland City Council) and North Harbour (North Shore City Council, Waitakere City Council and Rodney District Council).

Also explore a four-city model: Counties/Manukau (Manukau City, Papakura District Council and part of Franklin District Council), Auckland Central, Waitakere City and North Shore (including Rodney).

Look at putting the part of Franklin District Council south of the Waikato River into Environment Waikato.

Cut the number of city councillors from 14 to 19 now to 10 to 12.

Review community boards.


Lords of all they survey


Who will be Auckland's first Lord Mayor? Will it be Lord Dick, Lord Barry, Lord Bob or Lord knows who?

Sir Barry Curtis, who will be New Zealand's longest-serving mayor at next year's local body elections, is an obvious contender. What a way to see out a zillion years on the Manukau City Council, at least before man landed on the moon and 23 of those as mayor. The booming voice of Manukau said yesterday that he hoped to have achieved his goals by next year. One of his wider goals had been reform very much along the lines of the four big-city mayors' plan. "I have not given any consideration to [after that]."

Bob Harvey, who has notched up 14 years as mayor, turning Waitakere into the eco-city of the region, said "of course" he had given thought to seeking the lofty title but was similarly coy about any plans. "It would be one of the finest jobs in this country but the job hasn't been defined yet."

Nor has First-term Auckland City mayor Dick Hubbard ruled out standing for Lord Mayor. North Shore mayor George Wood is an unlikely candidate and Rodney mayor John Law is not considered to be in the running.

Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee scoffed at the new title, saying the region needed attention on transport and not someone swanning around calling themselves Lord Mayor.

"Gosh, our ancestors left all that nonsense behind in the old country 150 years ago. That is not the face of modern New Zealand."

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