7 Jul 2014

Aucklanders to pay, whichever way

7:39 pm on 7 July 2014

Aucklanders wanting low council rates rises will have to pay more in other ways to help the city fund ambitious projects over the next decade, a report shows.

The council has begun discussing its new 10-year budget, with an initial report highlighting some stark choices. It shows Aucklanders can't have low rate rises, low council debt and ambitions such as vastly improved public transport.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown, left, and council chief executive Stephen Town.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown, left, and council chief executive Stephen Town. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Keeping rates at 2.5 percent would mean cutting planned spending by up to $630 million a year, in 10 years' time. Rate rises of 3.5% a year would need cuts of up to $430 million in 10 years' time if nothing else changed.

The biggest pressure on the budget comes from a list of roading and rail projects planned for the next decades, but for which traditional funding falls up $15 billion short.

Consultants Deloittes have been hired to work out how to charge motorists using key roads and highways, an idea that will go out for public consultation late this year.

Other ideas to fund the list of transport projects include new fuel taxes, and charges to drive into the central business district, but they all need backing from Aucklanders and the Government.

Books 'in good shape'

Despite the big decisions ahead, council chief executive Stephen Town said its books are in good shape.

"We are well within our Treasury limits, we have a double A credit rating, better than some banks. We got that not by accident, and intend to keep it."

Initial papers released by the council on Thursday show no clear direction on how to determine what will fit within the Long Term Plan, which runs until 2024.

It makes clear that the biggest savings, if needed, will come from reducing capital spending and building fewer new projects.

Two months of discussion will lead to Mayor Len Brown proposing an initial version of the 10-year budget on 22 August and this will be refined until becoming a formal draft, with public consultation beginning before Christmas.

Mr Brown said everything would be reviewed, including the level of services the council offered and the number of staff it employed.

"You know, this is a time where we're looking at the structure of our organisation and wanting to configure it to give us maximum advantage from the amalgamation," he said.

Mr Brown said he is committed to keeping rate rises in the city to a minimum.

Auckland Council's first three-and-a-half years have been run using a long term plan created by blending the budgets of the eight former councils which were merged at the end of 2010.

So far, it has held rates rises at lower levels than envisaged in those plans, with this year's at an average of 2.6 percent for households.