It seems Auckland Council has latched on to the Covid-19 excuse to dramatically change community activities.
It now seems to want to implement policies it didn't previously have the mandate for, and to reverse community-desired policies that it didn't really want to adopt. It does seem to be the norm that the identified projects for axing are intended to frighten people into voting for a rate rise.
In addition, council consultation material did not provide alternative projects for cancellation. Surely, one or two large projects should be deferred instead of the all-out assault on our libraries and parks.
Bernard Orsman (NZ Herald, July 8) identified the reduction of another 500 staff in the acting CEO's letter. Any bets on whether they will be the most highly paid or the most vulnerable staff?
Financial accounts show that just eliminating the CCO boards of directors would save about half a million dollars per CCO. A few jobs could be saved with some careful excising there. But, the acting CEO's letter also pointed to a few other shockers including deferring the promised living wage proposals for vulnerable council workers; discontinuing the proposal for homelessness co-ordination; deferring the foundation work for climate change interventions; and deferring initiatives intended to improve Maori outcomes. All important initiatives of value to the community.
Other interesting proposals are offered including park and asset sales. Any council officer who doesn't understand this is a bad time to sell assets (and for this, I do blame Covid) should be sent for an Economics 101 refresher.
Or even reviewing the disgraceful sale of council buildings in Ōrewa. These, which were sold at about half their valuation, should be an illustrative lesson for all about the stupidity of selling public assets in this climate. At the same time, we hear about the dire straits of Queen St and other retailers hard hit by council stubbornly continuing on with unpopular and damaging projects.
The consultation material didn't give options for a nil rate rise nor realistic project options for the public to identify as replacements for library cuts, park maintenance cuts, asset sales and those others identified above.
So why is the council embracing these unpopular stances? It says council finances have been dramatically impacted by Covid and points to a few examples. The first is a lack of dividend from Ports of Auckland, even though the company often provides no dividend or borrows to pay any dividend.
Another reason is the loss of fuel tax revenue. But, this targeted rate can only be used to pay for transport-related projects, which are often subsidised about 50 per cent by NZTA and sometimes by growth funding. So, no petrol tax, no new initiatives. But it is morally wrong to cut or defer maintenance of footpaths and related projects because road tax is down.
Another reason given is the increased deferral of rates, even though these debts still count as an asset to the council.
Further, reduced development means a shortfall in the forecast income and no dividends from Auckland Airport. It is a precarious financial situation when the council relies on speculation and a single company's dividend to make ends meet.
Recent correspondence also points to the stockpiling of water quality and natural environment-targeted rates used as cash flow, with their legally required projects pushed out to later years. I wonder whether the Office of the Controller and Auditor General is aware of this moral outrage.
It's time to be honest about the financial situation of the council and to stop using the scaremongering tactics of attacking the most vulnerable. It is time the council got back to the community basics.
If the council is looking for real cuts, it could start with meaningful communication with the community, including the likes of Viv Beck and the Queen St retailers.
It's time for common sense and for moving positively forward.
• Grant Gillon is a former Devonport-Takapuna Local Board chair, former member of the Kaipatiki Local Board, former North Shore City councillor and a former MP.