Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Mayor's rail goal faces budget bump

Mayor Len Brown. Photo / NZPA
Mayor Len Brown. Photo / NZPA

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says the $2.86 billion central rail loop remains the prime project in his first 10-year budget, which faces a bumpy ride from councillors on Wednesday.

The day before Finance Minister Bill English unveils the Government's Budget, Mr Brown and councillors will lock horns in the Auckland Town Hall over a $58 billion Super City budget.

Mr Brown said the council could not back off the need to invest in the future of the city and deal with major growth, but the budget had to be fair, just and prudent to the city's 516,000 residential and business ratepayers.

Despite growing criticism towards the central rail loop, Mr Brown said it still had strong support.

The mayor's determination for the 3.5km underground rail loop will be tested with a call by Citizens & Ratepayers and other right-leaning councillors to freeze funding on the project until it has Government backing.

The Government has serious reservations about the project.

Orakei councillor Cameron Brewer yesterday said it was crazy to spend $112 million in the coming financial year on land purchases for the rail loop when it had no funding certainty.

Mr Brown has put the Government down for half the cost of the project in the 10-year budget. Ratepayers are being asked to pay 14 per cent ($400 million) and alternative funding sources, such as tolls, the remaining 36 per cent or about $1 billion.

Alternative funding including tolls, higher parking charges and a regional petrol tax are expected to be settled on in the next six weeks, most of which need Government approval.

C&R leader Christine Fletcher said the time was not right for a big budget and a big spend-up.

But Mr Brown, who is proposing an overall rates increase of 3.6 per cent this year, said rates would stay around the rate of inflation for the next 10 years.

Local Government Minister David Carter last week said the Government was close to agreeing to a request from Mr Brown to smooth out the changes so no ratepayer got an increase or decrease greater than 10 per cent.

Last night Mr Brown refused to say if his election promise of completing the rail project by 2017 at the latest was slipping, saying he believed it could be completed "this decade".

Another sticking point is the level of the uniform general charge, which Mr Brown has vowed to keep at $350.

Apart from shaving $10 million off a cruise ship terminal and applying pressure on Waterfront Auckland not to come to ratepayers to put $16 million into a super yacht facility, there are few signs of cost-savings by Mr Brown to his draft budget.

- NZ Herald

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