Opinion by Orakei Councillor Cameron Brewer
Auckland Mayor Len Brown’s draft budget for 2013/14 released today will cut out a long-held lawn mowing service for residents living in the old Auckland City area who are the same ratepayers stung the hardest with ongoing rates increases.
In an attempt to save $4.1m by discontinuing road-side berm mowing for the isthmus – a proposal that was rejected outright by the Transport Committee earlier this month – the Mayor is hitting many of those who face another 10% rates increase next year.
Most of the 133,000 Auckland households currently paying the full 10% rates increase cap are within the isthmus. Many of them will still have to pay another 10% next year and the following year as a spillover from this year’s rates transition. The 2.9% average region-wide rates increase now being promoted by the Mayor has little meaning for areas like the eastern suburbs. The reality is the majority of households in the Orakei ward will be up for a double digit rates next year. For them, it won’t be 2.9% next year, just as it wasn’t 3.6% this year.
Those on the isthmus are paying huge rates, yet they’re now up for a further service reduction. Their rates keep going up but now on top of user-pays rubbish being signaled they’ll also lose the long-standing free berm mowing service. They’re being asked to pay more for less.
In his famous cost-cutting report to the former Auckland City Council 11 years ago, former Finance Minister Bill Birch recommended that the “council should stop mowing berms” and at the time there was just about a mutiny by residents. Subsequently, changes to the regularity of berm mowing were made, but the service was ultimately retained. The Mayor needs to take heed of this experience.
He should look at tightening up the costs around the berm mowing contracts. However to remove this service completely would be a big mistake. Ratepayers affected won’t like it one bit and it will only make many of our streets untidy. Residents need to make sure they have their say on this.
While the 2.9% average region-wide rates increase is encouraging, the Mayor needs to re-look at some of the big capital projects in his draft budget for next year.
Before he commits $180m for the City Rail Link in 2013/14 alone, the Mayor needs to at least get some commitment from the Government, particularly when you consider he’s trimming the stormwater and flood protection budget which currently stands at about $78m. Is spending $3.4m next year on starting the Quay Street Boulevard a priority? I would say no, nor is spending millions on extending the Wynyard tram tracks.
Overall there’s still too much fat in the CBD and waterfront capital budgets, and ATEED needs to find further savings other than simply closing some information centres. The Mayor says he will not re-litigate any of his strategic priorities in the Long Term Plan which is a mistake given the increasing financial pressure this council is under, and the fact that’s we’re borrowing nearly $3m a day.
The Mayor’s described his cuts as ‘rats and mice’ that won’t have an impact on service levels but in the old Auckland City area ceasing berm mowing is undoubtedly a service cut which will negatively affect a big part of the community.