Posted on March 11, 2016
Auckland Mayoral Candidate Mark Thomas has announced he will give ratepayers an option to freeze rates next year together with options for targeted growth if he is elected Mayor at October’s election. He has today outlined a series of affordability and growth policies.
Thomas has been attending annual budget consultation meetings around the region and says the strong feedback he has received is that council needs to cut waste and do a much better job delivering local priorities. Thomas believes gaining control of council’s budget is a key part of boosting investment in transport, housing and other community priorities.
“Very small numbers of people have been attending council’s ‘Have Your Say’ meetings. This is because many have little faith in council to deliver want they want. I want to rebuild this and give ratepayers the option to fund growth, which I support, or not.”
“I’ll give ratepayers the option of a rates freeze in year 1 of my first budget.”
“The $35M in savings needed to do this will principally come from the $422M governance budget, although there will also be support cost savings in the $194M community services budget and the $191M economic and cultural development budget. I am looking for a total of 4% savings across this $807M expenditure.”
Thomas said then, on top of the $35M savings, he would also provide two further options of targeted growth involving an average rates increase of around 2% or 4% increase.
“A year ago when I attended many 10 year budget meetings across the region, key local priorities were identified. One year on, people have seen a rates increase of 9.9% on average and yet not enough of their key projects are being addressed.”
“My approach will tie any rates increase Aucklanders approve more clearly to specific local projects. This is a version of the targeted rate mechanism council already uses.”
“Projects will be grouped across six broad areas: North, West, Centre, East, South and Rural. So people will “vote” via the draft 2017/18 budget process to endorse growth tied to their area, or they will have the option for a rates freeze if that is more important. ”
“I will argue that Aucklanders support growth, but will provide a $35M council savings “dividend” in year 1 to encourage them to do this.”
He had discussed his plan with key council finance staff.
“I will also propose an increase in the Uniform Annual General Charge up to around $450 because previous council analysis has shown this to be the fairest option. I note that any change to the UAGC will create a variation in rates increases outside the 0-4% average I mention. This will be clearly spelt out in the budget consultation material.”
“To assist low income households more, I will transfer resources into the $600 pa rates rebate which only 50% of ratepayers access.”
“I will also ask staff to ‘unpack’ the $200M per annum of consultants’ charges. The rewrite of the Auckland Plan which I will lead will focus council more strongly back on our core business. My goal will be to reprioritise these costs over three years and focus on delivering the top Local Board Plan priorities – many of which are not included in the 10 year budget.”
“Other parts of my affordability and growth plan includes merging the Events and Tourism parts of ATEED into the Regional Facilities business (combined revenues of $160M pa). I anticipate savings of at least $1-2M pa, but much greater efficiencies and leverage opportunities. I have looked at the Brisbane regions “Lifestyle” division within their council structure and consider this a more effective model for Auckland.
“I will work with the private sector to establish a new economic development agency and, subject to this input, will integrate this into Development Auckland given the strong economic development role of the activity of this agency.”
“However council cannot rely on rates to help fund our growth and so I am also proposing giving ratepayers an ‘asset swap’ option to fund much needed infrastructure projects.”
This would involve retaining a 10% shareholding in the Auckland Airport to block any takeover bid and the option to swap the remaining 12% share or around $700 for agreed infrastructure assets i.e. The Pakuranga-Panmure busway and new rail/bus/cycleway investment in the isthmus.
“I also propose retaining the land under the Ports of Auckland but swapping the operating company asset (which should be valued at least at $400M) for an improved port footprint and better city/centre integration, and increased ferry services investment.”
“Both of these options would have to be clearly supported by Aucklanders at annual consultation to move ahead.”
“Our region needs significant investment to cope with previous underinvestment and with growth challenges, however Aucklanders don’t trust the way council spends money.”
“In last year’s 10-year budget consultation, 90% of respondents asked for a reduction in the $610M per annum Governance and Support Budget. Instead the Mayor increased this.
In the most recent Residents Brand Health and Values Survey, only 34% of Aucklanders trust council to make the right decisions.
“Phil Goff has announced an unfunded billion dollar light rail and a desire to sell a golf club he doesn’t control.”
“Aucklanders will be rightly underwhelmed by a lack of specifics from Goff on the one hand, and a lack of reality on the other. My affordability and investment plan addresses both these issues and also gives Aucklanders a real say in our region’s direction.”