Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Brown strives for 2% rates increase

Proposal, largely achieved by cutting costs behind the scenes, receives qualified praise from opponents.

The mayor has no plans to touch Local Board budgets. Photo / Natalie Slade
The mayor has no plans to touch Local Board budgets. Photo / Natalie Slade

Auckland Mayor Len Brown is proposing a rates rise of between 1.9 per cent and 2.9 per cent in next year's election-year budget.

Mr Brown said he was not giving any thought to next year's election, but stressed he had the "bit between the teeth" to get the rates increase nearer 2 per cent.

With inflation falling and the economy stuck in the doldrums, Mr Brown has managed to achieve his lowest rates increase in three years largely through a number of "rats and mice" savings and efficiencies.

Rates rose 3.6 per cent this year and 3.9 per cent in his first budget.

The mayor has no plans to touch Local Board budgets. Instead, the proposed rates increase has largely been achieved by cutting costs behind the scenes.

For example, councillors will no longer have 24/7 access to IT support. It will be limited to office hours at a saving of $594,000.

The most controversial service cuts are an end to mowing berms in the former Auckland City Council area and the proposed closure of five i-SITE information centres at Orewa, Takapuna, Kumeu, Pukekohe and Bombay.

There are plans to increase animal control and food premise and hairdresser fees to raise an extra $1.64 million. Mr Brown's draft budget is also proposing $2.67 million of new spending, including $388,000 for volcanic cones and $212,000 for World War I commemorations.

The mayor said he was acutely aware of debt, which increased from $4 billion to $5 billion in the past year, but stressed the council could not step back from the path in the Auckland Plan to invest in the city.

He did, however, signal a review of the council's $1.8 billion capital programme next year to look at deferring and reducing the cost of some projects. Savings of $250 million would reduce the rates increase to the 2 per cent figure.

On Tuesday, Auckland Transport cut the budget for the Dominion Rd upgrade from an original figure of $120 million to $47 million.

Mr Brown said the proposed rates increase was the start of a nine-month process.

The proposed increase went down well among Mr Brown's supporters on the council and received qualified praise from his opponents. "This budget is committed to building sustainable and thriving communities," said councillor Cathy Casey.

Communities & Ratepayers councillor Dick Quax said 2.9 per cent was a good start, but it was still well above the latest inflation figure of 0.8 per cent.

Even Mr Brown's strongest opponent, Orakei councillor Cameron Brewer, said 2.9 per cent sounded pretty good, but criticised the end of berm mowing for those who had been stung hardest by last year's move to a single rating system.

"The reality is the majority of households in the Orakei ward will be up for double-digit rates next year," he said.

Blunder means Maori board excluded

A tactical blunder by Mayor Len Brown has stopped the Maori Statutory Board from having a say on next year's budget.

Councillors voted 11-10 yesterday for the budget to be discussed by the full council and not at the strategy and finance committee. Two board members, chairman David Taipari and John Tamihere, sit on the strategy and finance committee with full voting rights, but the board is not represented on the full council.

Councillor Christine Fletcher wanted the budget discussed by the full council with support from councillor George Wood, who expressed concern about involvement of unelected Maori.

Instead of taking his motion to refer the draft budget to the strategy and finance committee, Mr Brown invited Ms Fletcher to put an amendment to send it to the full council, confidently predicting it would be lost and the main motion would pass. Mr Brown declared the amendment was lost on a vote of voices, but when a division was called the vote was carried 11-10.

After the lunch break, Mr Brown tried to reverse the decision with an impassioned speech about the damage to the council's relationship with the Maori Statutory Board, but failed to get the 75 per cent support required to do so. The vote was 13-6.

Mr Taipari said Super City legislation allowed the board to participate in the budget. The matter would be discussed at its meeting on November 5.

Rates increases

* 3.9 per cent last year
* 3.6 per cent this year
* 1.9-2.9 per cent projected for next year

Budget savings next year

* $3m saved with end to mowing berms in old Auckland City area
* $700k from closure of five visitor information centres
* $594k for ending 24/7 IT support for councillors

Extra revenue

* $3.48m from higher dividends from Auckland Airport shares
* $1.64m from higher dog control and environmental health fees

New spending
* $388k on volcanic cones
* $212k on WWI commemorations
* $102k on trade missions
* $56k on Arataki visitor centre cafe.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a3 at 18 Sep 2014 01:37:37 Processing Time: 399ms