If, as Mayor Phil Goff keep reminding us, Auckland is facing a huge funding crisis, he and his councillors have a strange way of handling it.

With a great blast of trumpets last week, the politicians nodded through at least $250 million of unbudgeted expenditure on flossying up the waterfront for a one-off yacht race. But behind the scenes, they're slowly strangling the annual Town Hall schools music festival concerts and the Auckland Art Gallery. All to save a bit of petty cash.

Providing bases for the 2021 America's Cup will cost between $147 million - $187 million. On top of that, councillors agreed last week to another $220 million of work in the downtown precinct prior to the event to bring it up to "world-class level." Of this latter sum, $90 million is "additional", or unbudgeted.

On top of this, it emerged over the weekend that Team New Zealand had its hands out for a "hosting rights" fee as well, pointing out that Abu Dhabi has offered them $116 million. To say nothing, they could have added, of the extra excitement that comes with Isis suicide bombers and Somali pirates hovering just over the horizon.


At least Goff has told them to get lost when it comes to matching that sort of baksheesh.

Without dragging out the rose-tinted glasses about the good old days, last week's decision-making was a reminder that the super city politicians have a sadly narrow view of what civic governance is about.

They only have to look about them in the old Auckland City Town Hall to see evidence that building a great city was more than just building roads and sewers and port facilities.

Current Auckland councillors are inheritors of a 150-year-old legacy that includes a great public library service, New Zealand's premiere public art gallery, the acoustically world-beating Town Hall, the Aotea Centre and the rebuilt Civic Theatre. In Auckland City's final days, councillors undertook a $121 million upgrade of the art gallery – funded by a mix of ratepayer, taxpayer and private monies.

The old Auckland City also persuaded Parliament to create the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board, to ensure a regular and fair funding stream for Auckland's major cultural and rescue organisations. It is similar to the historic War Memorial Museum funding model, designed to be at one remove from politicians' hands.

Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Illustration / Peter Bromhead

Created on the eve of the birth of the new super city, there were those who argued that such a stand-alone statutory funding model was now superfluous. Thankfully such wishful thinking was ignored, because since the inauguration of the new council, we've waited in vain for signs from within of that core of councillors that the old Auckland City had, who naturally accepted their role included the nurturing of Auckland's heart and soul.

Arts warrior Dame Jenny Gibbs is currently on the warpath against councillors who since 2012, have progressively hacked the art gallery's funding down from $12 million to the current $6.9 million. This has led to senior staff leaving and talk of closing the gallery for one or two days a week.

Now emerges the pettiness of the primary schools music festival squeeze, for which penny-pinching councillor should be deeply embarrassed about. For 77 years, primary school kids from all round Auckland have been coming to the Town Hall each year to sing together in a series of end-of-year concerts.

The current entry fee is $15 for adults and $10 for each kid which brings in $36,500. Hall management says this leaves them out of pocket by $53,000 a year, and wants schools to progressively increase their payment over four years to the $90,000 break-even point, but that will force poorer school to drop out. These are the same councillors who are happily tossing vast amounts of ratepayer cash at the feet of the rich yachties.

To me charity begins at home. Our priority should be nurturing the kids in our community to become good citizens, introducing them to the diversity that our politicians keep bragging about is one of the strengths of our great city. How better to do that than bringing them together from across the region to make music on the stage of our great town hall.