'Blackmail' by mayor over budget - Auckland councillor

11:40 am on 2 June 2023
Auckland mayor Wayne Brown visits the Mangere Emergency Centre following the Auckland floods on Friday, 27 January to see how they are supporting victims.

Several councillors are not convinced by Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown's call to sell Auckland Airport shares. Photo: RNZ/Angus Dreaver

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown has his work cut out for him trying to convince enough councillors to vote for his controversial plan to plug a $325 million budget hole.

At a chaotic meeting on Thursday, he delivered an ultimatum.

He will roll back funding cuts for arts, culture and local boards as well as keeping a rates rise for households below inflation. But in return he wants to sell the council's $2.3 billion of Auckland Airport shares.

RNZ contacted all 20 councillors. Of the seven who agreed to speak, all said it was still not clear if the mayor will get the backing he needs.

Manukau Councillor Alf Filipaina was blunt in his assessment of the mayor's warning that selling the airport shares was the only way to prevent steep rates rises and community funding cuts.

''It's disappointing from my perspective that he puts the blackmail in there... there must be a different word than blackmail, but you know, when he said, 'If you don't vote to sell the airport shares, I am going to put the cuts back in…' I don't know what other word to use."

Alf Filipaina is being recognised for his services to the New Zealand Police and the community.

Alf Filipaina. Photo: Auckland Council

Albany Councillor John Watson agreed there must be another way. Brown challenged him publicly to back his plan, but so far Watson is not budging.

''Two-point-three billion dollars' worth of shares is the biggest asset sale in the history of the supercity. In my view it should have been the absolute last, last resort, not the first resort, so it's really disappointing.

And selling was not the answer.

"This results in more of the same so the debt will go up again, the rates will continue to rise, and there will be no real fundamental attempt to change or turn around the ship that has seen Auckland grow to $11.9 billion in debt."

The mayor also called out the other Albany councillor, Wayne Walker, but he is not rushing to change his mind either.

"We can strike a rate that meets inflation, we can also use some modest debt funding, we can also tab into some depreciation, if we need to."

That infuriated Howick councillor Maurice Williamson, who said Brown did not cause the budget hole.

"He's got to solve the problem that's been handed to him.

"What makes me very grumpy is a number of those councillors who are sitting around the table, who have been there for years and have got the council into the dreadful position it's in, they are now the ones saying we're not going to vote to solve the problem you've got."

Maurice Williamson, candidate for Auckland Council

Maurice Williamson Photo: Getty Images

Brown had the backing of Andy Baker, who represented the Franklin ward.

"I'm in support of selling them, you know, we've had a lot of really high quality of advice and information - on that basis I am more than comfortable with selling them, that's the right decision."

Many councillors would not say how they would vote. Angela Dalton wants more time to think about the airport shares, saying a decision should be pushed to the long-term plan.

"I also don't think we've got all the pieces of the puzzle.

"I think it's a bit easy to sell an asset that's returning $40 million a year in dividends, when we haven't looked at all of our other assets. I just want to be pragmatic about my decision."

She has a week to make up her mind.

Brown said Thursday most of the councillors are financially illiterate. He will find out next week what they really think of his budget.

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