Auckland Councillors last month approved a “recovery budget” that will increase rates by 5 percent from July, but both Albany Ward Councillors Wayne Walker and John Watson, as well as Rodney Councillor Greg Sayers, voted against the measure. Other councillors who opposed the increase were Christine Fletcher and Sharon Stewart.
Cr Walker says his key concern is that more efficiencies within Council and its Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) such as Auckland Transport and Watercare, are needed to cut costs. “A recent review of Watercare’s operations showed a wide range of efficiencies are possible and something similar needs to be done across Council and the other CCOs,” he says. “One way to make that point, and have the issues discussed, is to vote against the rate increase.”
Cr Watson says his vote reflected the percentage of local residents opposed to the budget proposals – which was 53 percent.
“This sort of opposition is reflective of specific groups – the elderly and poorer communities for instance – where there is real concern over their capacity to pay,” Cr Watson says. “Covid-19 has put people under financial pressure. For them, this rates increase at a time of historic low inflation is not all that welcome.”
He also says the costs on ratepayers are cumulative, as this budget also approved a 7 percent increase for Watercare for two years (and 9.5 percent for six years after that).
Cr Walker says that Council’s “borrow, sell and rate model” is all it has to rely on, as it has no investment strategy. Legacy Councils had a diversified assets portfolio that regularly returned 18 percent per annum – it was sold after amalgamation.
“It was called the ‘rainy day fund’ and would have comfortably sat at over $400m now. The sale was short-sighted as it could have gone a long way to dealing with the effects of Covid-19,” he says.
In announcing the passing of the budget, Mayor Phil Goff said Council needs to invest in infrastructure, the environment, economic recovery and key services in the wake of Covid-19.
The 5 percent increase is for one year only, followed by a return to 3.5 percent.
“This increase compares with proposed increases of 16 percent in Wellington, 17 percent in Tauranga, and 8.9 percent in Hamilton,” the mayor said.
The Budget will be formally adopted by the Governing Body this month.
Funding for the HBC Youth Centre in Ōrewa was confirmed in the budget. The Centre will receive $100,000 per year for the next three years. Cr Walker says that will help keep it going while Councillors and the local board seek to bring the youth centre’s funding in line with that of similar facilities in Auckland. • Watercare’s 7 percent increase is across all its charges, fixed and volumetric, including for wastewater-only customers – ie, people on tank water supply. The charges for its new ‘town to tank’ service will also increase by 7 percent.