• Auckland's biggest transport initiative is on a knife-edge
• AA number of Auckland councillors want to put the $2.4 billion City Rail Link on hold to stave off growing anger at big rates rises
• A Herald survey found some of Mayor Len Brown's supporters have switched sides and want the Link shelved until 2020, unless the Government stumps up cash
• Brown has until Wednesday to get the numbers to keep his flagship policy afloat
The $2.4 billion City Rail Link could be deferred until 2020 because of mounting concerns by councillors about its impact on rates, debt and big cuts to community services.
A number of councillors are having second thoughts about an early start on the rail project and support deferring work until the Government comes on board with funding in 2020.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown has locked $2.2 billion into a new 10-year budget to begin work on the 3.5km underground rail link in 2016 and completed by 2021.
On Wednesday, all 20 councillors and the mayor will debate the budget and make decisions on the rail project for public consultation.
The Government has agreed to fund half the project, but will not make a financial commitment until 2020, unless the council meets rail patronage and downtown employment targets.
The huge cost of the rail link has focused councillors' and Local Board members' minds on the financial sacrifices communities are being asked to swallow in Mr Brown's new budget.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are proposed to be cut from community projects, parks and local works; one-in-four households are up for double-digit rates increases; and motorway tolls and regional petrol taxes have been announced to plug a $12 billion transport funding gap over the next 30 years.
Only 24 hours after details of the mayor's rating policy was released last Thursday, councillors were briefed about even higher rates increases.
In an attempt to soften cuts to community services, two new rating options will be considered at a two-day budget meeting starting on Wednesday.
The first option is for an overall rates rise of 2.5 per cent next year and 3.5 per cent for the next nine years.
The second option is for a 3.5 per cent rates rise every year and an additional $3000 charge for new houses. Mr Brown's rating policy was for rates increases of 2.5 per cent for the first two years, and 3.5 per cent thereafter.
Labour councillor Ross Clow was the first centre-left councillor to break ranks with Mr Brown last Thursday on the flagship rail link and call for it to be deferred until the National Government's 2020 start date.
He said the budget was gutting suburban areas such as Avondale, which had been waiting 30 years for a new town centre, in favour of "pet projects" like the City Rail Link.
"Mr Mayor you have been up there twice in the last few months telling them they are going to get this and that, yet your proposal has absolutely nothing in the budget," said Mr Clow.
Albany councillor John Watson is another pro-link councillor having second thoughts.
Circumstances had changed dramatically with huge cuts to community services and projects, he said, citing a $20 million project to widen Whangaparaoa Rd.
"Nothing has been signalled on the horizon and that's totally unacceptable," Mr Watson said.
Mr Brown declined to be interviewed, but his deputy Penny Hulse pushed the case for an early start on the "most critical transport project for Auckland".
Ms Hulse said funding the rail link was not going to impact on the budget and community services in the first few years, adding the council and Government's timeframes were only a couple of years apart.
Most councillors support an early start on a short section of the rail route to go with redevelopment of the Downtown Shopping Centre, where work is due to start in 2016.
City Rail Link
Where councillors stand
Proceed with CRL timetable
*Most of this group support an early start on a short section of the route to go with redevelopment of the Downtown Shopping Centre
Could not be contacted
Brown's CRL funding plan*
$156m - 2015/16
$267m - 2016/17
$432m - 2017/18
$438m - 2018/19
$425m - 2019/2020
$481m - 2020/2021
$102m - 2021/22
-$88m (sale of properties)2022/23
*Funded by debt and development contributions