Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Goff repels rate rises to clean up sewage

Mayor believes city budget savings will cover stormwater upgrade.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is playing down rates rises and higher water bills to stop raw sewage flowing into the Waitemata Harbour almost every time it rains.

Goff said he was working hard to honour an election promise to hold rates to 2.5 per cent this term and said Watercare had $1.7 billion of costs to cut overflows covered in its budget.

This follows a Weekend Herald investigation showing frequent sewage overflows at 41 locations and 10 beaches being closed this summer because of pollution from human and animal wastes.

Water samples taken at two sites in inner Auckland suburbs tested by Watercare showed "dangerously high" bacteria levels, according to wastewater biologist Gemma Tolich Allen.

Goff said that if tackling the city's sewage shame showed more money was needed he would discuss that with Aucklanders.

Under the current arrangement, Watercare pays wastewater costs and the council pays stormwater costs.

Goff said it was not his intention to increase rates beyond 2.5 per cent to invest in stormwater and he was confident any extra costs would be covered by budget savings.

Goff's biggest challenge in 2017 is to reach a deal with Government to secure alternative funding sources for transport and housing.

In recent days, Goff has met Transport Minister Simon Bridges and Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett, but has yet to eyeball new Finance Minister Steven Joyce who has ruled out a regional petrol tax.

Goff is looking at a 10 cents per litre petrol tax to raise about $150 million towards a $400m funding hole for transport.

He was "hopeful" of making progress in election year and would look at any other suggestions from the Government on other ways Auckland can contribute towards its share of infrastructure costs.

Other issues on Goff's radar: Trimming the budget "You will see savings. I have left the message very clearly with officials that I expect more being done with less. There will be, I think, a dip in staffing levels rather than an increase this year and we will be looking at finding efficiencies in council's 800-strong vehicle fleet."Inter-city bus terminal"To me it's a no-brainer. There should be nothing stopping a bus company bringing their passengers all the way into the city if their destination is best reached from the CBD. I would expect Auckland Transport to find a solution with the bus companies."Homeless people in the CBD"At the moment I think it is still getting worse until we put things in place to make it better. It's like turning around an ocean liner. I don't know how long that takes but I do know this; we have the goodwill and determination to be a good player in remedying that."Council-controlled organisations"I'm saying to them I don't want to dominate your day-to-day operations and decisions. That's for you to do, but I am expecting you to find the efficiencies."

What success looks like at the end of 2017:

"An understanding by the people of our city that the mayor and council are acting with integrity, acting with determination to ensure the money they pay for the running of the city is being well spent. That we have the vision for a better Auckland and council, Government and the private sector are working to realise that vision."

- NZ Herald

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