Tony Holman: Auckland's would-be mayors offering same old hoary chestnuts

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Auckland Mayoral candidates - Phil Goff, Victoria Crone and Mark Thomas. Photo / Nick Reed
Auckland Mayoral candidates - Phil Goff, Victoria Crone and Mark Thomas. Photo / Nick Reed

The triennial "silly season" is upon us. Most of the mayoral candidates and many of the council aspirants are trotting out the hoary old chestnuts, reduction of rates, for example, or capping rates. Remember those promises any other times? Remember any rates reductions, or "caps" staying in place?

Those who suggest these magical solutions may hope to achieve them by sleight of hand, probably by imposing other charges which are not called rates but, instead, petrol taxes, congestion charges, or tolls, which still hit our pockets.

If you doubt those statements, please look at the website showing press statements of Phil Goff, and others.

Other potential rises in council revenue instead of rates may well include bumping up the costs of other services such as water, sewerage, rubbish collection, transport fees, and similar.

Vic Crone delivers fairly similar, glib statements, including "keeping residential rates low" (but how low, for how long?) She will also "cap rates". At what level? Haven't we heard all of this before, and how did those promises turn out?

Crone, like Goff, also proposes to make savings ("at least $500million") and increase efficiency by reducing "back office waste" and by "efficient procurement". But again, one needs to be told how reducing that "waste" will be done.

If one of the reductions is to be achieved by sacking some staff, how much is expected to be the net savings taking into account likely redundancy agreements and likely substitution of expensive consultancy firms in some instances?

Again, Goff and Crone croon a duet about "cutting spending" and efficient procurement, but the detail is lacking here too, although Goff does suggest one of his favoured devices would be to use public private partnerships (PPPs).

These "partnerships" have a very chequered history. Some local examples are worth looking at. Kaipara District Council's doomed PPP scheme for a sewerage facility for Mangawhai district ended with the council being dismissed, and a huge rates hike for the poor benighted Kaipara ratepayers. Or review the infrastructural PPP contracts that went belly-up in New South Wales, such as the Lane Cove Tunnel.

Further problems with these arrangements are that they are generally much more costly than normal public sector construction projects. They are also long-term contracts, typically 25-50 years, so there's little flexibility possible and successive councils are locked in for a long period - unless they want to pay heavily to break the contract.

A much better option is Goff's suggestion of using infrastructure bonds.

But let's not ignore a couple more of the mayoral contenders, Messrs Palino and Thomas.

John Palino's three major policies are: "reduce rates" - now that has an appealing sound - but how? "Fix the Unitary Plan" - how? "Fix Transport" - again how? Details apparently are still to be worked out.

On the matter of rates reduction, Palino proposes to "reduce rates by 10 per cent across the first term". How? By reducing spending on: "non-core" and "wasteful spending" (both terms undefined), "discretionary activities" (also undefined), "payroll costs", bringing these down "to a more normal level" - again, undefined and how? What might be the costs in doing so?

All pretty vague and glib really.

Mark Thomas too is focused on rates, not surprisingly. (Who isn't?) But he has a more varied menu of options, such as: "freezing rates for a year with targeted options" or, "two further options of targeted growth involving an average rates increase of 'around' 2-4 per cent including a version of targeted rates". (Getting a bit confused?)

But it's altogether is a more thoughtful and more specific set of ideas and possibilities than the other three contenders. However, like some others, he also intends to sell off some of our profit-producing major assets.

And that's just some of the matters to be questioned, including candidates' views on housing, intensification and transport.

None of the main contenders deal with the central problem of unlimited, uncontrolled migration into Auckland. Some, including Goff, even think that the Unitary Plan is a great proposal.

* Tony Holman QSO has been an elected member of the former North Shore City Council and community boards and was an officer of the Auckland Regional Authority.

- NZ Herald

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