7 Dec 2020

Auckland local boards to decide fate of assets: 'These are tough times'

2:54 pm on 7 December 2020

Auckland local boards hope to avoid closures to public facilities like toilets and playgrounds, as they help Auckland Council to slash its expenses.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff announces the council has agreed to a budget with a 3.5 percent rates rise.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says business as usual isn't an option. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

The council is forecasting a $1 billion deficit by 2024 due to Covid-19, and has recently released a draft 10-year budget that includes a range of cost-curbing measures.

In a mayoral proposal on the budget, Phil Goff is suggesting local boards identify their underperforming assets that could be sold, so money can go towards priority projects.

"We should consider incentivising local boards to decommission underperforming local assets by ensuring that some of the proceeds are used to fund new development," he said.

"Business as usual is simply not an option."

In Ōrākei, local board chair Scott Milne warned that would mean some tough decisions ahead.

He believed it was unlikely sports grounds, playgrounds or public toilets would need to be sacrificed, but said the board may look at selling small pieces of under-utilized land instead.

"All boards are having to take a really hard look at the assets that they're responsible for, and making sure we're making the best of them from a community point of view. These are pretty rugged times and I don't think the city really appreciates how tight the fiscal situation is at the moment," he said.

Devonport-Takapuna local board chair Aidan Bennett also anticipated difficult conversations with the community.

He was not worried residents would miss out but urged them to have an "open mind" about change.

He said there might be more cost effective ways to run services like the Takapuna library, which the council is reviewing, along with the Mary Thomas centre and council service centre.

"These are buildings that were built in the '80s and some of them are no longer fit for purpose, so there's better ways to do things," he said.

The council's Finance and Performance Committee will consider the mayoral proposal on Wednesday, and is expected to make decisions about public consultation.

Scott Milne said the community would have an opportunity to make suggestions about what should or should not be sold.

"It's an iterative process. It's not that there'll suddenly be a list come out with a tick by a whole bunch of assets and a cross by a whole bunch of assets... everybody gets a chance to have their say," he said.

"Of course, not everybody likes the answers because these are tough times and we're going to have to make some really tough decisions."