Contact Channel Magazine

AUCKLAND COUNCIL with George Wood

It’s the Economy Stupid

GEORGE WOOD is a North Shore ward councillor on the new Auckland Council.
The former three-term mayor of North Shore City lives in Forrest Hill with wife Myra.

Auckland Council budgets very tight.

Just when we thought things would be slowing down for the end of the 2011-year a new issue to be addressed, in the form of credit downturn possibility has been received at Auckland Council. Not good news to receive but something that needs our full and undivided attention.
There has been no let up at City Hall as the Council handled a myriad of plans and strategies. Top of the list is the new spatial plan or as it is officially called the Auckland Plan. This is a huge piece of work that will give Auckland a strong blueprint for the future.
At the same time the council is preparing an Auckland Waterfront plan, an economic development plan and the Auckland City centre plan, which will put us in a strong position planning wise for the future. Currently we seem to be working from dawn to dusk hearing verbal submissions from a wide-range
of Aucklanders on how they feel Auckland should develop over the next 30
to 40 years.
While the strategic plans are being worked and reworked by the councillors and officers a new ten-year long-term budget is being also prepared. This is the one where Mayor Len Brown and I have some stark differences. I believe that there must be a larger level of funding paid by way of uniform annual general charges whilst the mayor wishes to see the more higher valued property owners pay a far higher portion of the total rates.
Currently Mayor Brown is ahead (he has the support of more councillors) but I certainly have not given up on the issue. It is interesting that a Government Inquiry dealt with the whole issue of rates and wastewater charging, in depth, in 2007. Even in 2007 the eminently qualified persons charged with coming up with a new system, of funding local government had some important recommendations. Unfortunately at this time it seems these recommendations have fallen on death ears. They made the obvious observation that local government in Auckland would become untenable if the current practices continued. They stated: Because of the size and significance of the Auckland region in the “rates debate” the Panel has carried out a separate analysis of the Auckland region’s councils. This shows that although there is some diversity between councils, rates are higher than the national average in all Auckland councils and will grow in real terms per rateable property by around 11% over the period to 2016, driven by capital expenditure on land transport and community infrastructure. These increases appear unsustainable and likely to lead to even greater affordability issues than elsewhere in the country.
This was certainly a sobering wake up call for the former Auckland Councils. The new Auckland Council got an even more salient warning from credit agency Standard and Poor’s in mid-November advising that they were placing the council on a 90-day Negative Credit Watch. This certainly wasn’t something that the council wanted to hear at this time of the year. The credit agency has concerns about the levels of debt the new Auckland Council is taking on in the immediate future.
It is my view that Auckland Council will need to radically reform the way that we do business. We came into being on the premise that a joined up organisation would be more efficient than the previous eight councils. It is therefore very important that we do not loose sight of the fact that savings and efficiencies must be found. My colleague. Councillor Des Morrison of Franklin, a former executive at New Zealand Steel, believes that we should be shooting for saving to a stretched figure of 20% of the operational budget. That assertion certainly does get eyes rolling.
The early New Year 2012 will be an important time for the new council. The draft ten-year long-term plan will be finalised and then the document does out for public consultation. That will be a time when the support of the community of the North Shore will be required to get changes made to the document.
There will be lots of issues to tackle in 2012 with the Central City Rail Link tunnel funding still to be resolved and the form of the additional Waitemata Harbour crossing to be decided. The harbour crossing is not going to be an easy decision when the total level of disruption is considered; however, it is getting closer to a time when a decision must be made. I want to see us make the decision and then get on and implement the plan. The Victoria Park tunnel project has shown what can be accomplished when we make a decision and then go for implementation.
All the best to everyone for Christmas and the New Year. 

by George Wood

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