Auckland Mayor Len Brown hailed his first 10-year budget in 2012 as the foundation block to transform Auckland once and for all.
There was $8.2 billion for 11 new or refurbished libraries, new swimming pools, sports parks, much-needed water and stormwater projects and other core spending.
Transport was to get $9.3 billion to build a world-class transport system, including $500 million for new electric trains and a long awaited start on Ameti in the southeast.
Two years later, this foundation has barely progressed and the council faces stark choices as its finances reach crisis point. Promised libraries and swimming pools may never get built.
Inorganic rubbish collections could be scrapped; cultural festivals and events scrapped.
The new 10-year budget is a black budget, or a "brown" budget as some have quipped. It must slash $2.8 billion of new capital spending if Brown is to keep his election promise of holding overall rates increases to 2.5 per cent this term.
Local body financial commentator Larry Mitchell, who produces annual "league tables" of council financial performance, said the council had substituted disciplined financial management with four years of "borrow and spend".
Contributing factors were poor governance by councillors lacking financial nous strung along by staff, a culture of extravagance with little thought of the effect on ratepayers, weak auditing, and a lack of honest public consultation.
Whaleoil offers some solutions:
1. Staff. Staff is where the biggest costs go. And for all the staff numbers – Council services are still woeful. So they must be sacked. Reduction of staff to 3,000 people will reduce the budget massively.
2. ATEED and Waterfront Auckland must go - These organisations are troughing at the ratepayer purse for virtually no return and yet huge expenditure.
3. Auckland Transport needs to be collapsed and brought back in-house to reduce doubling up costs. Besides – they are universally loathed and inept in a way that can’t be described.
4. Kill off the rail tunnel. Nobody can afford it.
5. Stop spending hundreds of millions on new streetscapes. Sure we all love them, but they are unfathomably expensive. The road behind North Wharf and Silo Park cost $180m.
6. Slash and burn the local boards and the Maori statutory board. None of these are useful, and yet they cost enormous amounts to administer and operate. For what purpose?
7. Sell the new Ivory tower. I hear this deal is being secretly done with inflated rents that ratepayers will have to wear the cost of to inflate the price of the building.
8. And most importantly – Mayor Brown must stand down. He must fall on his sword. Rooting around and lying about it is one thing, but mismanaging the city finances into crisis is unacceptable.
9. Sack everyone in the Mayors office.
10. Replace Council with commissioners to take over and transition the Council through these changes.
11. Get rid of the planned Canoe and kayak centre – it’s a boondoggle to appease Brown’s secret donors.
If none of these are done then nothing will change.Killing services like libraries and stopping inorganic collections for rubbish is fiddling at best but does not account for meaningful change.
1. Brown must stand down
2. The government needs to step in and appoint statutory managers for Auckland
3. The Auckland Act needs to be repealed and/or amended to make way for a more efficient organisation
4. Having replaced the four wellbeings with a requirement for local government to be ‘efficient and effective’ the government needs to set clear financial parameters within which Councils must operate.
5. A Royal Commission needs to be established to examine changes in the way local government is financed. Expecting businesses and a diminishing number of home owners, each one of whom has to fund themselves and two others, is untenable and manifestly unfair: for example replace rates with a local sales tax.
6. The Mayor's powers MUST be overhauled and curtailed.