The Mayor's proposal for the Long Term Plan was put to Councillors for decision making on Thursday 31 May. This was a crucial meeting in Auckland Council’s budgetary cycle as it sets the content for the Long Term Plan prior to its adoption at the end of June. I promised to keep you all in the loop with the LTP decision making and to follow the advice and views of the residents that I represent.
This Long Term Plan has continued to hold the general rates increase to 2.5% for the next 2 years and then increase to 3.5% thereafter. This is in itself a key win for ratepayers as compared to previous general rates rises that Auckland Council has had, this rates rise is as low as it has ever been and compares well with rises in some other parts of the country. The UAGC is also set to rise by the same percentages, again this is financially beneficial for our ward, as the higher the UAGC the lower the general rates take is based on capital value. Orakei residents endorsed this approach and I gave my vote accordingly.
Targeted Rates: Water Quality and Natural Environment
Councillors considered the mayoral proposal as to whether to deliver additional targeted rates that are ringfenced to fund specific work programmes for improving water quality in our harbours and improve our natural environment through expanded pest management and protection of Kauri trees. Prior to the consultation I advocated for both targeted rates to be considered as a flat rate per property rather than differentiated based on capital value, or at least be part of the consultation material giving Aucklanders a choice. That however wasn’t supported by the mayor or the majority of Councillors. Adding new rates is not typically something that I would instinctively or personally support, especially when they are based on the capital value of property. But my promise at election time (and one which I have never broken), is that when we ask Aucklanders what they think, my vote would reflect the majority of feedback from the residents and ratepayers of our Orakei Ward. Feedback received from our ward showed strong support for both targeted rates from Orakei and so I supported them with my vote.
The good news is that we can expect much cleaner harbours with an accelerated programme of works to support particularly to prevent the high numbers of wastewater overflows that pollute the harbour when it rains. We will also see much greater support for Auckland Council’s environmental programmes including resourcing for our efforts to stop the spread of Kauri Dieback, and better control of invasive pest and plant species. I will update on specifics as they relate to projects in our ward in another newsletter.
Disestablishment of Auckland Council Investments Limited (ACIL)
I also voted against the disestablishment of Auckland Council Investment Limited. ACIL hold the Council’s investment in Ports of Auckland and shares in Auckland International Airport. The argument for this was that we could save approximately $500,000 per year by removing this entity and absorbing their functions into Auckland Council. This was an issue that not many people submitted on from across the region (probably because it wasn’t detailed in the summary consultation material), however the message from Orakei submitters was still clear. You said that POAL is operating well at present and removing the arms length relationship via ACIL opens the Ports to political interference - in other words: don’t fix what isn’t broken. While I voted against, in the end the Mayor had the votes to pass this part of the budget. I am somewhat reassured though, that Auckland Council will now operate under an MOU that will set the parameters for Auckland Council’s governance of POAL to protect the Ports status as a commercially driven entity.
Regional Fuel Tax
Similarly, I followed the advice of Orakei residents in opposing the Regional Fuel Tax. This was a tricky one as Council asked the question of Aucklanders twice: once in March and more recently in May. The March consultation was a little hypothetical, in so much that people didn’t know what projects would be funded by the extra tax, but showed a clear majority of Orakei residents in support of the proposal. The more recent consultation in May showed the opposite trend with a majority in opposition to the regional fuel tax. May consultation also followed central government’s announcement of their extra incremental excise taxation which made the original 11.5c per litre for the next ten years, closer to 23-25c per litre including GST for those at the pump. The May consultation results formed my vote as it was also consulted on at a time when we were able to give a much better idea of what the proposal would entail in terms of projects and also in the wider context of the wider fuel price both wholesale and retail.
However, my colleagues supported the mayor in voting it through. While it is always disappointing to be on the losing side of a debate, the Regional Fuel Tax will deliver significant gains for Auckland. It is expected to raise $1.5b in revenue for Auckland over 10 years but crucially this enables much more in capital expenditure over the same period, up to a total of $4.3b.
I am pleased to advise, that I have made significant progress to assist the Orakei Ward in this budget. For the very first time since Auckland Council was formed, the Orakei Local Board has had its main advocacy project funded in the Long Term Plan. Not only is the the Gowing Drive Shared path linkage to the Tamaki Drive to Glen Innes shared path in the long term plan, it is scheduled for the first years so that it can be delivered at the same time as the main path is constructed. As a former local board chair, I know first hand how hard it is for a local board to get funding for their advocacy items. You can have the best reasons in the world but it is a decision for the Councillors and the Mayor as to whether you are successful or not. I am pleased to advise my lobbying around the Town Hall table was successful and thank the Mayor and my Councillor colleagues for their support . Public feedback on the project has been strongly in favour and I know, that once this link is built it will be of great benefit for the residents, school children and other users.
Other wins for Orakei include an increase in funding for local transport projects (approximately $450k extra per year), extra funding for Colin Maiden Park, Michaels Ave Reserve, Madills Farm and Shore Rd Reserve sports parks, extra funding for the Meadowbank community centre, and new funding for investigating how to improve the resilience of Tamaki Drive against flooding.
Overall, this budget whilst not perfect does address significant under investment particularly under the ground. It adds additional $100 million to our Sport and Recreation Facilities Investment Fund, $40 Million for proactive monitoring and response to infrastructure damage as a result of climatic events, including non-coastal slips and extra funding for the Auckland Art Gallery to name but a few.
The LTP budget also has savings targets of $60million in the first three years alone as well as a targeted value for money programme. It also has specific benefits for our Ward and includes a $26b capital build investment to deliver infrastructure and projects to help mitigate long term under investment.
I am proud to represent the views of those who live in the ten suburbs which make up the Orakei Ward around the Town Hall table. Be assured, I have paid close attention to the results of the consultation and used this as the foundation for my decision making. Thank you to each and everyone of you who have taken the time to respond when asked. I want you to know that when you participate in consultation where I will be the decision maker, your views will count, so please make sure that you take every opportunity to participate in submission processes so that I can represent your perspective.