Looking at the rest of the world right now, I realise how far we’ve come in 2020 and how lucky I feel to live in our community and New Zealand. It’s been a tough time for many of you and I acknowledge that, despite having made it through lockdown, the financial strain continues for many.
I want to thank you for the support and engagement through the emergency budget process.
It was the toughest decision in my career to date, COVID-19 removed half a billion dollars from the budget for our city, 1000 people have lost or will lose their jobs at Auckland Council, hundreds of projects have been delayed and you will notice some cuts to services this year. The decision was made easier by the unity between myself, my fellow North Shore Councillor Chris Darby, all local boards, and, importantly, the community.
I took the time to read through the 3000+ submissions from the North Shore and, although there were many different ideas and priorities, they reflected the best of us and a community I’m so proud to represent:
· We are worried about friends and whānau who are already vulnerable and those that haven’t struggled before.
· We want to pay our part and help – many said you could afford to pay and some even offered to pay more if it meant fewer jobs were lost, and fewer services and projects were cut from our community.
· We value connection. Repeatedly submissions urged us to save our libraries, art facilities, public transport, sport facilities, environmental projects – all things and places we rely on and use together.
· We want to keep momentum on the investment in infrastructure of recent years.
· We feel a responsibility for future generations. There was a clear request we don’t pass on debt, whether financial or environmental.
There were also some specific requests that Cr Darby, the boards, and I managed to save or secure, which were all at risk at a lower rates rise:
· The Hurstmere Road streetscape and stormwater works will now continue as one piece of work but on a slightly delayed schedule due to COVID 19. There were a few sleepless nights that I can only imagine were amplified for business owners who have already made it through so much so it’s a huge relief to have this funding saved.
· There will now be no cuts to funding for locally driven initiatives – this is funding from the local board straight out to the community for important actions that support our volunteers and services.
· There will now be no cuts to library hours, no change in the mowing schedules for our parks and sports fields, and no change to the maintenance of our bins and public toilets.
· Public transport services now won’t be cut and the Gold Card subsidy for over 65’s will not be cut either.
· Auckland Transport Safety projects will be prioritised to prevent serious injury and death.
· We are funding $224m of emergency infrastructure to deal with the worst drought in Auckland’s history.
It’s fantastic to see the recent openings of our upgraded Sunnynook Park and Devonport Playground – we need this type of investment to continue.