Published 6 November 2014
Auckland Council will propose a 3.5% average rates increase instead of the 2.5% the mayor had previously been promoting, but that’s not the end of the debate.
The average is a fairly meaningless figure – the end of the 3-year equalisation process, revaluations and the higher residential percentage mean tens of thousands of homeowners will be face an increase well above 10%.
The proposal for a higher rating level follows a sudden move by the governing body to slash local board project spending as the main way to save $300 million and concern at breaching the benchmark of the interest bill exceeding 12% of revenue, combined with an argument over what level the uniform annual general charge component of the rates bill should be at, and the shadow of the city rail link hanging over the whole council financial structure.
After a session all day yesterday, followed up by completion today, the council budget committee came up with plenty of circular argument, a small measure of heat and an agenda that isolated components of the budget & long-term plan.
But mayor Len Brown’s majority held fast, and the one major opponent, Cllr Cameron Brewer, failed in his attempts to change the budget makeup, such as trying to hold to a 2.5% average rise by further cutting opex “within the organisation” instead of by attacking the parks, community & lifestyle budget.
The 2015-16 rates recommendation will go to a council meeting in December for ratification and out to public consultation early next year, for final endorsement at the end of June.
While many of these exercises present a fait accompli, this budget & rates proposal offers the public a real opportunity for input – on ways of reshaping the broad picture, rather than on smaller specifics.
The mayor said he didn’t want to recommend a 3.5% average rise but couldn’t see any way of bridging the funding gap of 1% to keep it down, if the public’s aspirations were to be met.
Councillors really need to be more than laymen with an inkling of what they want if they are to contribute substance to any debate on options of how to reshape a multi-billion-dollar budget, but Cllr Christine Fletcher gave a hint of their difficulty when she slipped into her criticism of the process that council staff weren’t allowed to work on “our” (opponents of the majority view, I think) proposals.
That, and an overall proposal that leaves critics trying to trim at the edges, means the 3.5% proposal is likely to remain intact unless some of the citizenry can band together to present substantial, realistic alternatives.
Attribution: Council agenda & meeting.