Rodney Local Board member Colin Smith and Healthy Waters’ Shaun McAuley at the drainage session.
Rural landowners angry at Auckland Council plans to impose a targeted rate on them for stormwater management are threatening to withhold payment if it is approved as part of the new 10-year budget.
More than 30 people from Tapora and Te Arai descended on a special drop-in session at Wellsford Library earlier this month to voice concerns over the Rodney drainage districts targeted rate proposal.
Their concerns ranged from complaints that Council had got its facts and maps wrong to the fact that the whole of Auckland was being asked to submit feedback on a rate that it knew nothing about and would be levied on just 244 rural properties.
However, the biggest worry was over a vast discrepancy between what stormwater division Healthy Waters said it had already spent fixing and maintaining drains and actual evidence of work being carried out.
Despite an annual budget of $26,500 and a one-off remediation package of $260,000, residents told Healthy Waters staff that no more than a bit of weed spraying had actually been carried out – no broken pipes had been fixed nor any diggers brought in to clear blocked drains. And there were gasps of astonishment when one Tomarata farmer said he came across two contractors who had been sent up from Wellington to spray some weeds.
“They said it was because Auckland biosecurity was too busy,” he said. “They had maps with them, they had no idea where they were going.”
Several people asked for concrete evidence of what work had been carried out and where, and many expressed fears that if the new rate was imposed, it wouldn’t end up being spent in the community.
Tapora avocado grower Glen Inger said the proposed rate was wrong and wouldn’t work.
“Half the money would be used up by ecologists, hydrologists and admin and there’d be no money left for the digger,” he said. “We need to look after our own.
“We had no choice about being part of Auckland … if you put this in, we must all rally together and not pay it. It’s bulls***.”
Wellsford Rodney Local Board member Colin Smith said he was grateful to Healthy Waters staff who had tried to come up with workable solutions, but it was now down to the community to fight the Finance and Performance Committee recommendations to the Governing Body, which had the final say on the budget.
“The team has come up with different scenarios to try to get this district back on track,” he said. “But we’ve been given three options to submit on, and they all have a targeted rate – that is just unworkable, it’s not going to happen.
“Council believed the drains were private, but they weren’t – they were Crown drains, administered by Council. Council is trying to raise money out of a small community to do its work for it. If they’re going to target rate those people, it will break them.”
Even Council admits that the new levy could hit some landowners hard, saying that “for some properties the increase could be significant” – at least $3000 a year.
When questioned about the presence of spraying contractors from Wellington, Healthy Waters’ commercial partnerships team manager Shaun McAuley would only say that the department used Downer Construction alone for all maintenance work.
“Downer is based in Silverdale and charges Council at prearranged and agreed rates. Downer uses one sub-contractor based out of Albany,” he said in a statement.
However, he did provide a breakdown of expenditure and work carried out, and said he understood the frustrations of local residents (see this story online for the full breakdown).
“We know there is still work to be done, and we intend to keep working through the problem together.
That is why the management process and the funding mechanism is currently being reviewed as part of the 10-year budget,” he said.
“We are also arranging a tour of the drainage district sites to perform a drainage audit. The audit will look at the work that’s been done, what remains high on the ‘to-do’ list, and what gaps there are in the existing maintenance programme. Local knowledge is invaluable for exercises like this, which is why we are inviting the Local Board and members of the community to attend.”