Viewpoint - Stick to essentials

By: Tim Holdgate

Great to meet with the NX2 Northern Express Group at Puhoi last week, getting updated on this tremendous roading project, world leading roadway design technology at our backdoor. A couple of nights later, however, attending a community meeting to discuss the potential to toll the same stretch of new motorway, which together with the existing toll to Johnstones Hill tunnels would make Warkworth and points north an expensive commute.

Meanwhile, time to rethink Rodney Local Board’s pre-Covid 19 budget forecast. Auckland Council’s income projection post Covid-19 has been slashed, with a projected estimated income loss of some $750 million for the current financial year, drastically reducing the Local Board’s earlier 2020/2021 operating & capital budget forecasts. A need, then, to urgently re-prioritise the nice-to-have versus the essentials or back-to-basics community service facilities. The capital development budget is minimal, bolstered only by the Transport Targeted Rate, introduced in 2018, and additionally paid by all Rodney ratepayers. The original intended purpose of this additional targeted rate was to accelerate investment in transport within all Rodney Local Board subdivisions for the period 2018 -2028. It was originally ring fenced to address the deteriorating condition of Rodney roads, improve safety, fund more road sealing and footpaths, together with cycleways.

An additional fuel tax funding allocation from the Governing Body, which effectively gave rise to the presently proposed extravagant temporary Park and Ride facility has now collapsed. With cost estimates for this normally Auckland Transport-funded project alone now assessed at more than $5 million (having been originally costed at $2-$2.2m) and the similarly proposed Kowhai Park pathway boardwalk budget approaching $1 million, it is high time to closely examine the financial ramifications of Covid-19. Funding for such projects must not jeopardise or minimise the financing of the Local Board’s basic services. It is AT’s responsibility to fund such transport facilities which they will ultimately own and operate, not the local board … that’s why we pay rates.

The Rodney Local Board must engage more effectively with the northern subdivisions of Warkworth and Wellsford, to manage and communicate ratepayer development funding options in a  business-like and financially responsible manner. I am not at all sure that such projects at assessed costing levels, with likely cost overruns, is what austerity budgeting is all about.   

Tough financial times are ahead. Auckland Council’s finance and performance Committee received a record 34,915 submissions during the June/July consultation period on the proposed 2020/2021 Emergency Annual Budget. The budget package contains a reduced level capital investment, a prudent debt level, asset rationalisation, a significant savings target all underpinned by a 3.5 per cent average general rates rise, including a rates postponement option. It will be the Rodney Local Board’s responsibility to meet these financial challenges starting with the removal of extravagant capital projects such as park and rides and boardwalks, to thereby honour the original transport targeted rate commitment to Rodney ratepayers, particularly regarding safer roading infrastructure and footpaths.

Tim Holdgate, Rodney Local Board


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