On December 1st 2020, Mayor Goff released his proposal for the 2021-2031 10-Year Budget. This proposal is out for public consultation from today (22 Feb) until 22 March. Following public feedback the final decisions for the budget will be made in May and adopted by the Governing Body in June this year.
For those who are interested I thought I’d write a basic breakdown of what adoption of the budget in its current form means for us all, because if you care about investment in our infrastructure, if you're concerned about climate change, and you're a rate payer - this budget will affect you.
Before I begin however, I must first articulate the backdrop in which the 10 Year Budget has been formed; in 2020 Council was down $450million in forecasted revenue due to the impacts of Covid, add to that the unexpected $224mill cost in water supply & treatment needed to respond to the drought and water demands of the city, and an additional $500million increase in the City Rail Link project. It’s clear to see, Council is low on the dough. Not only that, the previous 10 year budget saw an unprecedented investment in Auckland’s infrastructure due to historic underfunding of roads, public transport, cleaning up waterways and protecting our natural environment; these are costs that can’t be easily delayed or deferred. Climate change and environmental degradation doesn’t just fix itself because we’re now responding to a global pandemic, continued investment in this area is critical. We also have a massive portfolio of community facilities that are ageing and not always meeting existing or future need. These facilities require significant investment so that they are fit for purpose, and this is more than we can afford. In a nutshell, it’s all a little bit grim.
The 10 Year Budget now out for consultation is about recovery, not austerity. We can’t simply slash & burn necessary projects that are in the pipeline, and nor can we keep cutting jobs. We must continue to invest in our city, get the things done that we’ve been crying out for, and stimulate the economy by creating employment. We need optimism and a shared understanding of how our collective action will best serve the place we call home.
The Mayoral Proposal itself is a decent 17 page read that is well worth a squizz if you have the time. For those that don’t, here are the main points:
This all sounds a bit painful to the average Aucklander, but the funding raised by lifting the debt to revenue ratio for 3 years and the one off 5% rate increase will enable Council to deliver up to $900 million more for infrastructure projects, priority renewals of transport assets and community facilities.
Climate action continues to be an important focus for Auckland Council as we know irrefutably that climate change is a significant threat to our economy, environment and way of life. In June 2019 Auckland Council unanimously declared a Climate Emergency, and so this Long Term Plan must speak strongly to the steps we want to take in response to this threat. NZ is behind in reducing its emissions targets under the Paris Agreement. On 31 Jan the Climate Change Commission released an important report on how we can decarbonize the economy and thankfully our Prime Minister has stated NZ will move full steam ahead to reach our climate change goals. It’s heartening to know that central government is on the same page as Auckland Council and that together we can start to make a meaningful difference.
Auckland Council has a goal of reducing greenhouse emissions by 50% by 2030 and be net zero by 2050. This budget will increase expenditure on climate action by around $150 million and some of the new actions include: the cessation of purchasing diesel buses from this year ensuring that we have 50% of our bus fleet electric or hydrogen by 2030. Planting 11,000 more street trees and establishing a nursery to grow 200,00 seedlings a year. Planting an additional 200 hectares of native forest to offset emissions. Expanding the resource recovery network. Increasing energy efficiency at Council’s facilities. Planning for coastal change and responding to natural hazards. These steps are only some of what is outlined in the proposal and are in addition to what is already happening at a Council and community level. My only concern here is that $150 million doesn't actually go that far, and I would want to ask Auckland Council to make an even greater pledge than what is contained in the plan.
Transport is also important for our communities. There are 800 new cars added to Auckland’s roads each week. Congestion sucks big time and it’s getting worse. The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) is tasked with responding to this problem. The solutions, of course, rely on the delivery of a resilient, connected, public transport network that meets the needs of communities in all parts of Auckland. We all do our bit by making choices that allow us to localize – work, study, shop and play locally and embrace active modes and public transport. Remember, you're never stuck in traffic, you are traffic. So supporting inviduals to desired destinations by delivering a quality PT network is hugely important.
Community services and facilities is another area addressed in the Mayoral proposal. Council has always provided community services through building and then operating fixed assets. This means we have a very large network of community facilities. Sadly, some are ageing and no longer meeting the needs of the community where they are placed. As the portfolio grows, so does the level of funding required to meet the maintenance and operational costs of those assets. Local Boards were informed that for us to bring these assets up to standard, a 3.5% rates increase would be needed to meet this specific funding gap alone. Quite clearly that’s never going to happen, and so the Mayoral proposal recommends that Local Boards look closely at their community facilities, their usage, their gaps in provision and find ways to deliver things differently. This means disposing of underperforming assets and using those funds to deliver something better, more versatile and more responsive to current and future need. This is an approach I support, as I have seen many times Council assets that are degrading, under-utilized, ignored, unkempt. I believe we need to release the value of those assets and deliver better for our communities.
Other areas that are discussed in the proposal, but which I won’t go into any detail, are areas such as social investment, things like the community and environment grants and funds that Council make available so that communities and groups can be empowered to realise what they want to see in their neighbourhooods. Māori outcomes is another area discussed, whereby the Mayor rightly reasserts Council’s commitment to Treaty-based partnerships with Māori and in particular mana whenua.
Environmental protection is discussed. This covers our continuation of the Water Quality Targeted Rate and Natural Environment Targeted rate that funds the work going on in the Wairau catchment, Kaipara Harbour, and the central interceptor project that responds to the region-wide wastewater overflows. Water supply is discussed, as it should be after the major drought we experienced last year and will continue to experience as years go by.
For some engaged citizens this Long Term Plan won't go down well. Council does get a strong response from rate payer lobbyists who prefer not to pay any more into the city. I get it. Rates are not fun to pay. The truth is, we all have a role to play in shaping Auckland into the city we want to live in. Rates account for about 40% of Council revenue and without them, we wouldn’t get the investment we need in our services and infrastructure. Auckland Council, whether you know it or not, has a massive impact on your daily life; just look at your roads, are they sealed, are potholes repaired? Is traffic moving (not always!)? Is there public transport? Is there a library or swimming pool or community house nearby and what’s the cost to you of using that facility? Are there galleries you can go to, or museum exhibitions to attend? Are there events you love? Music in the parks, movies in the parks, out and about sports programmes for kids. Are your streets swept? Are the trees along the road corridor maintained to prevent powerline faults and are the weeds kept at bay? Do you have water flowing from your taps and showers? Are there cycleways and walking paths in your neighbourhood, and do your children love playing at local playgrounds? I’m yet to live in a city where all these services come for free. Paying our rates and fees is our way of making Auckland work and if we can keep pushing forward together then I know that what will emerge is a city we’re all proud to call home.
So please have your say here.
Elected member of the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board for the 2019-2022 Election Term.