Public fear around crippling rate increases is real. An expediential rise in the cost of growth associated with the proposed Unitary Plan is leaving Auckland panicked.
Despite months of endless meetings, workshops and PowerPoint presentations by officers behind closed doors on the Long Term Plan (LTP) budget , there has been little leadership or opportunity for robust debate or tabling of alternatives or amendments; it is only this week the real issues are emerging.
If community discontent is at an all-time high, this is matched by those pushing the pedals from within. The issues of affordability for Aucklanders should be at the forefront of our decision-making. Ratepayers must not be burdened with national aspirations for Auckland as a global city. We must identify ways to fund major projects without putting unrealistic pressure on rates.
Some would sacrifice or delay the sorely needed City Rail Loop (CRL). This is not a solution. What is called for is creative thinking on how to leverage our current assets and rationalise some of our non-core assets.
The CRL will be as transformational to Auckland as the harbour bridge. I support the CRL because it is critical to the functionality of the existing investment we have made in rail over the last 20 years.
Britomart is currently a dead-end station. The CRL will turn Britomart into a through-station, resolving the ludicrous situation where trains have to queue for long periods to enter.
The benefits of optimising our investment in rail will reverberate throughout the whole region. The CRL will help reduce pressure on our roads, cut rail travel times, enable the efficiencies of our investment in electrification to be realised and increase rail services, particularly from the west and the south.
With major arterial roads such as Mt Eden and Dominion expected to run out of capacity by the early 2020s, delaying the CRL is not an option.
Savage cuts to parks, sports and recreation budgets mean there will be a massive shortfall in green spaces to meet Auckland's growth and development. What will this look like in reality?
If you consider the current shortfall for required sportsfield use is currently 800 hours on weekdays and 150 hours on weekends, under proposed budget cuts we can expect to see the deficit rise to 1700 hours. Taken-for-granted access to sportsfields and clubs for our children will become, for many, a relic of yesteryear.
When older community halls deteriorate we will be faced with removing them rather than repairing them. Nothing is left in the bucket for new developments.
Parks and sportsfields are precious to Aucklanders - they are central to connecting our communities and to our health and wellbeing. We must find ways to maintain them.
An increase in the Uniform Annual General Charge (UAGC) offers some solution if it is offset by an adequate income-determined rates rebate. I support an increase to $550. Currently the UAGC is set at $373 and could potentially be increased to its maximum of 30 per cent of total rates, the allowable limit of $750 per unit.
Those opposed to an increase argue it would impact on lower-value property owners. However, I believe this can be sensitively offset through an adjusted income-determined rates rebate currently available through the Department of Internal Affairs.
Capital valuation or rates based on property value is not a sustainable funding model for local government. I hope the new Minister of Local Government, Paula Bennett, will be willing to tackle this.
Selling underperforming council assets and reinvesting the money into sorely needed infrastructure makes good sense and is a necessary part of meeting the priorities and demands of growth. The assets of the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust are a perfect example of where there has been a dogged unwillingness to engage in rationalisation.
In order to meet these challenges with our local democracy intact, it is important that we work together for more far-sighted solutions, rather than maintenance of the status quo.
Christine Fletcher is an Auckland councillor and former Auckland City Mayor and Local Government Minister.