Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown is calling for a "radical rethink" of the Super City to protect services and keep rate increases well below inflation in the face of an economic and fiscal storm.
Brown started his speech with wide grin at the swearing-in ceremony for the mayor and 20 councillors at Auckland Town Hall this evening.
Brown said the new team of elected representatives collectively needs to think about how the council and its entities are run.
"The reality is that big, major, restructuring and savings are needed for the first time since the Super City began 12 years ago - and it needs to happen fast," he said.
Brown's message to the 20 councillors, their families and other guests was "tonight is a celebration" of New Zealand's democracy and the will of the people.
"We must ensure that what they have voted for is what is delivered…and leave our city and our region in a better and a more sustainable position as we formally take up our new roles," said Brown, who won the mayoralty three weeks ago by a big margin over his closest rival Efeso Collins.
The businessman and engineer said the new council takes office aware that Aucklanders and New Zealanders face the most difficult economic outlook for at least a generation.
"There is a cost of living crisis, that affects every one of us, whether we are paying a mortgage or rent, and which we see every day at the supermarket, the petrol pump and when the email bleeps telling us a new bill has arrived.
"Very soon, tens of thousands of Auckland families are going to see their interest payments on their mortgages triple," he said.
What's more, said Brown, none of the different scenarios around Auckland Council's finances are other than bad news.
"I've spoken about Aucklanders sailing into an economic and fiscal storm. Tonight, I'm sad to say, the wind and rain are already here."
Brown's in-tray contains a number of thorny issues, including an ongoing budget deficit of $90 million to $150m, deferring at least $230m of council projects, a looming budget blowout in the $4.4b City Rail Link, and financial problems at Auckland Transport for public transport.
These figures were produced well before the latest inflation figure of 7.2 per cent and forecasts inflation will remain high for some time.
Brown said without tens of millions of dollars in savings, Aucklanders' rates won't just increase by inflation, but by much more.
"That means our new team needs, collectively, to radically rethink how Auckland Council, its council-controlled organisations [CCOs] and other entities are run," said Brown, who plans to apply the mantra "less is more".
"That's the only way to protect the services Aucklanders value, while keeping any rates increases well below inflation - and not add to the agony so many Auckland families will experience over the months and perhaps years ahead," the mayor said.
Brown said there would be a line-by-line review of the council, CCOs and other entities' books, citing a line in the Ports of Auckland for "other expenses" of $27m and $24m in the past two years.
"We need to know what that $25m a year of 'other expenses' is spent on, stop it from being spent if it's not adding anything, and return it to Auckland Council to keep rates low, the parks in good shape, the buses running and the zoo or museum an affordable treat for everyone," he said.
Meanwhile, the mayoral office today issued a press release on behalf of deputy mayor Desley, saying she stands side-by-side with the mayor on all his major initiatives, backed by 181,810 voters.
This followed an awkward joint press conference yesterday where Brown and Simpson fronted the media after the announcement of the Ōrākei councillor as deputy mayor.
Simpson said "we're very different people", saying she was "naturally more conciliatory" and unsure what part of Brown's programme to "Fix Auckland" she would back.
Today, Simpson said she is looking forward to working with the mayor and councillors in opposing Three Waters in its current form, working with Auckland Transport to ensure it delivers services Aucklanders expect and demand, and backing Brown's plans for Ports of Auckland, including keeping it in public ownership.
The former finance committee chairman also pledged to work with Brown to present a budget to the governing body that will keep rates as low as possible in the face of the economic storm.
The new mayor and councillors
Mayor: Wayne Brown
Albany ward: John Watson, Wayne Walker
Albert-Eden-Puketapapa ward: Christine Fletcher, Julie Fairey*
Franklin ward: Andy Baker*
Howick ward: Sharon Stewart, Maurice Williamson*
Manukau ward: Alf Filipaina, Lotu Fuli*
Manurewa-Papakura ward: Daniel Newman, Angela Dalton
Maungakiekie-Tamaki ward: Josephine Bartley
North Shore ward: Richard Hills, Chris Darby
Orakei ward: Desley Simpson
Rodney ward: Greg Sayers
Waitākere ward: Shane Henderson, Ken Turner*
Waitematā and Gulf ward: Mike Lee*
Whau ward: Kerrin Leoni*
(* New councillors)