Auckland Council staff are opposing a public referendum on whether to charge motorway tolls or raise fuel taxes and rates to fill a multibillion-dollar transport funding gap as allegedly too costly and confusing.
An Auckland-wide referendum on ways of raising an extra $300 million a year would cost $1.5 million and the timetable for running it ahead of long-term budget decisions needed by early May would be very tight, says a staff report to councillors.
The report, which councillors will consider on Thursday, also says a referendum would not replace the council's obligation to consult on transport funding options before setting its 10-year budget.
Running two processes asking about the same issue was likely to be "confusing for Aucklanders."
It says a consultation document for the budget will be delivered to each household for feedback in any case, and recommends a "statistically reliable and independent" survey if councillors want greater clarity about public opinion after that.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown opposed the idea of a referendum last month, when an advisory group presented the council with options of either a motorway toll averaging $2 or higher fuel taxes and rates, saying he expected tens of thousands of people to make their views clear in submissions to the long-term budget.
That was despite saying in 2011 that he was considering a referendum, and the following year that Aucklanders would be under no misapprehension about his funding preferences by the time of last year's local body elections.
But the council's budget committee called early this month for a staff report on the cost of a referendum and associated issues, under a resolution moved by left-wing road tolls opponent Cathy Casey and seconded by right-wing councillor Dick Quax.
Dr Casey said on Friday she was disappointed by the report's recommendation given the high impact motorway tolls would have on Auckland.
"It's a change to the social fabric of Auckland if every time a car goes on the motorway it clicks up a charge," she told the Herald.
"That's a different Auckland to the Auckland I live in now and the Auckland I want to live in."
"If Aucklanders choose to have a network charge on the motorways, so be it, I'll accept that. But not to ask them and do a survey....you'll always get the answer you want."
"Democracy is costly and messy, it does complicate things, but if mayor really wants a network charge he may get a big surprise if it goes to referendum."
A referendum in Edinburgh in 2005 on whether motorists should be charged extra to drive into the Scottish capital's centre drew just under 75 per cent opposition.
Dr Casey expected the issue of a "user pays" Auckland to be of far more concern to many people than that of a redesigned national flag, which the Government intends putting to a national referendum next year at a likely cost of at least $30 million.