An independent consultant’s assessment of options for the reorganisation of Auckland has dismissed the idea of a Rodney Unitary Authority.
Instead, the report identifies either the status quo or two Rodney local boards, under the existing Auckland Council, as the preferred options for local government in Rodney.
The report, prepared by Morrison Low, will be presented to interested parties in Auckland this week, ahead of its general release next Monday.
Morrison Low examined five options for north Rodney:
1. Status quo
2. Two local boards
3. Merge a portion of north Rodney (the Wellsford area) with Kaipara District Council and Northland Regional Council
3. North Rodney Unitary Authority
4. North Rodney District Council
When assessing the Unitary Authority, which the Northern Action Group (NAG) has championed almost since Auckland Council was established, the report predicted that rates would need to increase by 48 per cent to cover the estimated first year deficit of $13.5 million. It also predicted that the deficit would continue to rise over the ensuing 10 years.
In addition there are likely to be significant capability and capacity issues for a unitary authority that would have about half the population of the smallest current unitary authority in New Zealand, the report said.
Although the consultants acknowledged that there would be some benefits, such as a greater level of representation and more autonomy in decision-making, the overriding consideration was whether the North Rodney Unitary Authority would be large enough to effectively undertake the full responsibilities of a unitary council.
The report said that splitting off Wellsford and Warkworth from the Auckland region would also not support integrated growth planning.
Auckland is New Zealand’s fastest growing city and Warkworth has been identified as the new northern growth satellite town, the report said. A unitary authority would fragment strategic growth planning and the scale of the proposed authority would place limits on the strategic capacity of the council to deliver services to its community.
The consultants believed that operational processes and capital works required to meet regulations would consume most of the unitary council’s revenue with little left over for discretionary spending.
The small size of the council’s staff would mean that there would be an increased dependence on contracted external expertise.
In assessing the two preferred options (Options 1 & 2), the report found that while there was no change under Option 1, Option 2 had some governance and representation benefits for the Rodney communities but there were drawbacks in respect to governance and representation for the wider Auckland community, and it would be more costly for Auckland Council.
The key changes would be:
• A northern board encompassing the Warkworth and Wellsford subdivisions, with the remaining Rodney ward forming the South Rodney Board. Each board would have six members including the chair.
• An increase in representation in Rodney, increasing the population-to local-board-member ratio from 6911:1 to 5183:1.
• Creation of two new local board offices in Rodney, one within each of the new local board areas.
• Additional governance costs, including the cost of the local board members and democracy, administrative and engagement support to elected members, as well as transitional costs to establish the new local board.
The report said two boards would provide a stronger mandate for Rodney communities to advocate for the Rodney ward and better representation. Rural communities would benefit through a greater voice for rural ratepayers as a whole.
But, alternatively, the report found that two local boards could disadvantage other communities in Auckland, outside of Rodney, because their voice would be one of 22 rather than one of 21.
Substantially lower representation than in Rodney could be perceived to be inequitable by other communities within Auckland and the governance model would be made slightly more complex, potentially slowing decision-making.
The report says the option of merging Wellsford and Te Hana with Kaipara would result in a first year estimated $2.9 million deficit for Kaipara District Council and a reduced surplus for the Northland Regional Council. This would have a significant impact on Kaipara’s ability to carry out its responsibilities, duties and powers. It also did not enable catchment-based flooding and water management issues to be dealt with effectively.
The idea of a North Rodney District Council was dismissed on the grounds that it would result in a first year estimated $10.2 million deficit, which was forecast to increase over the 10 year forecast period. Rates would need to increase by 43 per cent in year one to cover this deficit.
The Morrison Low report will assist the Local Government Commission to determine its preferred option.