The time has come for Aucklanders to swap sunnies for reading glasses and face some tough choices on the costs and services of the Super City.
People have seven weeks to provide feedback on a draft 10-year budget that, according to Mayor Len Brown, includes some of the biggest decisions on Auckland's future.
Big rates increases for households and the prospect of motorway tolls or a fuel tax to avoid the city's transport arteries suffering severe congestion form a big part of the controversial budget.
Super City reporter Bernard Orsman examines the big issues in the budget. Aucklanders have until March 16 to have a say.
Photo / Chris Skelton
Aucklanders are getting wealthier and can afford higher rates for better assets and services. That's the view of Auckland Council, which says a healthy economy has resulted in average Auckland household incomes rising faster than inflation.
And, it says, city finances are in good shape, with ample capacity to borrow more money.
But it acknowledges there is no appetite for large increases in rates or council debt; it's simply a question of how much Aucklanders are willing to pay to make progress.
With this in mind, the draft budget proposes an average rates rise of 3.5 per cent a year, but new revaluations and lowering of business rates will lead to higher rates for households.
Household rates will rise on average by 5.6 per cent next year and 4.5 per cent thereafter.
About 126,000 households - more than one in four - face rate increases of more than 10 per cent this year, 25,000 households face increases of more than 20 per cent and 3738 households face 40 per cent-plus increases.
About 160,000 ratepayers will pay less.
Aucklanders are also being consulted on a uniform annual charge of $385 for services.
Watercare is proposing to raise water charges by 2.5 per cent for the next two years and 3.6 per cent a year thereafter.
Photo / Dean Purcell
Aucklanders have stark choices when it comes to the city's number-one bugbear.
In order to contain rates and debt, the council is proposing to slash $3.8 billion from the transport budget, leading to severe traffic congestion and substandard public transport.
Or Aucklanders can opt to pay an extra $350 on average a year in motorway tolls or higher rates and fuel taxes to fund a larger transport programme.
Under either scenario, the $2.5 billion City Rail Link will proceed as the top transport priority.
The "urgent need to deliver the City Rail Link as soon as possible" - construction is due to start next year, with completion in 2023 - has a huge impact on other transport projects. The rail link accounts for 72 per cent of the public transport budget.
Under the "basic transport programme", the capital budget will be cut by $2.4 billion to $6.9 billion. Running costs will be cut by $1.4 billion to $13 billion.
The "Auckland Plan transport programme" would be funded by a $2 motorway toll or a local fuel tax increasing by 1.2c a year for 10 years and raising rates by 0.9 per cent a year.
This programme would fund $3.4 billion of extra capital spending, including 164km of extra cycleways and walkways.
Parks and community infrastructure
Photo / Jason Dorday
A revolt by local boards has seen the reversal of $800 million of cuts to parks and community services, albeit at the price of an increase in overall rates from 2.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent for each of the next 10 years.
Projects such as the upgrade of the Mt Albert town centre and a number of sports park developments will proceed at huge relief to local communities.
But ongoing "funding constraints" mean that over the medium to longer term, the council will be unable to maintain all of its parks and community facilities. Running costs are being trimmed by 7 per cent. Parks and libraries bear the brunt of cutbacks.
The frequency of mowing grass in parks is being investigated. Some high-maintenance street gardens will be replaced with low-maintenance perennials.
Fewer events will be provided in regional parks and fees introduced for events in open public spaces and private access over local and sports parks. Cemetery, cremation, bach and camping fees will rise.
The council is proposing to cut the hours at its 55 libraries. Central city library hours will be reduced from 67 hours to 62 per week.
Growth and infrastructure
Auckland Council is planning for one million new residents over the next 30 years, but is budgeting for 716,000 people.
The medium growth figure in the draft budget is at odds with a high growth figure of one million more Aucklanders in a new planning rulebook for the Super City.
Budget papers say if population growth is higher, it might result in pressure to provide extra infrastructure and services. If growth is lower, it might result in surplus capacity.
Council finance officer Matthew Walker says the reason for treading a more conservative path to meet the costs of growth is the budget flexibility to adjust investment decisions.
The new rulebook, or Unitary Plan, did not have the same flexibility because land use planning occurred over long time-frames, he said.
Budget papers outline a history of underinvestment in infrastructure, rapid population growth, unprecedented demand for new and expanded better infrastructure and constrained funding.
"The gap between infrastructure demand and available funding is so large, we need a financial strategy that ensures we get the most value out of every dollar," the papers say.
Photo / Dean Purcell
The Auditor-General, Lyn Provost, says the council's consultation document fairly represents matters and identifies and explains the main issues and choices facing the council and the region.
She draws attention to the transport issue and the two options the council is seeking views on.
The council, she says, acknowledges that as a result of the financial commitment to the City Rail Link in the "basic transport programme", some transport programmes will not proceed and it will also mean lower maintenance standards, minimal improvements to roads, walking and cycling facilities and could result in a reduction in service levels.
Ms Provost says the alternative "Auckland Plan transport programme" includes improvements to public transport services, higher levels of renewal work and other road improvement projects.
"To fund this programme the council has suggested either an increase in rates and fuel taxes or the introduction of a motorway charge. Both of these options for raising new funding would require legislative change."
Q&A: Have your say
What happens next with the budget?
A summary of the 600-page-plus budget document will be sent to every household from today. Public consultation takes place until March 16.
How can people participate in the consultation process?
The council will include a questionnaire with the summary which must be returned by March 16. The council is organising 34 Have Your Say events across the city from February 14 until March 14.
Where do people go for information?
The council is setting up a website www.shapeauckland.co.nz and a rates calculator for people to work out their rates for next year.
What happens at the end of public consultation?
Councillors and local board members will be given feedback in April before the budget committee makes final decisions on the budget in early May. If the council decides to introduce tolls or a regional fuel tax, government approval and legislation will be required. The governing body will adopt the final budget on June 25 to kick in on July 1.