All councils in New Zealand are between a rock and a hard place trying to strike a new rate after income has been slashed by Covid-19 restrictions.
In Auckland the proposal is not so draconian. Mayor Goff proposes to increase the 2021/2022 general rate from 3.5 percent to 5 percent. He tells us Covid-19 has had a $1 billion impact on the Council’s earnings. I will vote for that 5 percent, not because I have plenty of money, but because I don’t want to see essential services cut and deficits left for our kids to have to pay off. We have enough deferred maintenance as it is.
Phil Goff also says they will continue to make cost savings and sell surplus property. You know my mantra on property sales, ‘you can only sell the family silver once’.
“Without this greater use of rates and debt, around $900 million of much needed investment in Auckland would be delayed,” says Goff.
I find it very hard to stop thinking about our harbour and our beaches. We already have the indignity of fifty local beaches so polluted they are unswimmable; this is third world. Any thought of, ‘the world’s most livable city’, goes out the window when the s*** on our coast line is discussed.
The Council already has a ‘water quality targeted rate’ to fund improved water quality, and the Council proposes to extend that beyond the 2028 year, to June 2031. The Council also plans to increase this targeted rate annually. They don’t say by how much.
There are several other targeted rates, which worries me. Is this just a ploy to be able to say the rates increase is only 5 percent, when there are several more to pay? Councillor Coom assured me that targeted rates are ring fenced and spent only on what they are raised for.
I fear for some community facilities. The proposed budget suggests that leasing or shared facilities might become more common in future. Some community facilities may be closed, focusing on ‘multi-use facilities and online services’.
I would have thought there are some dark threats hidden in there. I would hope that school buildings can be better utilised than they are at present; they sit empty for many hours each day.
Many readers will know of my concern for loss of tree cover in Auckland in recent years. The Waitemat-a Local Board undertakes to ensure 30 percent tree cover in our ward by 2050. This is an extraordinary aim, given the constant demolition of trees in the Waitemata Ward in recent years. The Council is about to start demolishing the old pines in Western Springs park - quite unnecessarily in my opinion.
Council is also aiming for further population intensification in the city, which I fear will result in a continuous loss of amenity values like trees, views, and an increase in noise, traffic, loss of open space.
I greatly fear the loss of Leys Institute - our iconic library. It sits empty, needing some restoration. It would be criminal to leave it to fall into ruin. There will be a cost to the restoration, but it must be done. Bite the bullet on this one Council, and save it from sale or demolition.
Finally, another important issue in my book is the banning of the carcinogenic weedkiller glyphosate. If it costs a little more to control weeds, so be it. We cannot risk litigation if some of our residents die from glyphosate poison simply because they live, walk, and play on our street berms.
A five percent rates increase is plenty, but it might be lower than many other municipalities. Let’s hope Council pursues every effort to find savings - staff salaries, consultant costs among them. Let’s bite the bullet and pay. (JOHN ELLIOTT)
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