Feedback on Auckland Council’s draft 2023/24 budget closes on March 28th. You can read the consultation document here, and provide feedback here.

Auckland Council is currently consulting on what is one of its most important ever Annual Plans – the ‘budget’ of what it will spend money on between July 1 this year and June 30 next year, and the level of rates and other charges to fund this investment. There’s a lot of money at stake, with the Council family (including its Council Controlled Organisations like Auckland Transport) planning to spend $3.593 billion in operating costs and $2.791 billion on capital investment.

The context for the annual budget is more challenging than ever. Not only is the Council still recovering from the impacts of Covid-19 on various revenue streams like public transport fares, but there is decades-high inflation rates, the impact of massive recent storms and a $1 billion increase in the cost of the City Rail Link – for which under current arrangements the Council is up for half of. This was always going to be a really tough and complicated budget to get right and unlike Central Government, Auckland Council can’t just run a massive deficit when times get tough – they legally have to balance their budget.

In this context, the main proposals of the budget are:

  • Cutting operating expenditure by $125 million, which seems to have significant potential effects on many services the council provides right across Auckland. From a transport perspective, it means we’re stuck with continuing to run the current number of bus services, even though that’s a massive cut on what we used to run due to the bus driver shortage.
  • A 4.66% overall rates increase, which is well below current inflation levels of 7%. This means in effect a ‘real’ rates reduction of over 2%. By way of comparison, throughout most of the past decade or so, rates increases have generally been 1-3% above inflation, allowing the region to slowly make improvements over time.
  • Selling the Council’s ownership of Auckland Airport shares, which will bring in around $1.9 billion and help reduce debt repayments.
  • A slight increase in debt levels.

The consultation document also gives some level of flexibility, including higher rates increases and a greater use of debt, should those options be supported through public consultation.

This is how the overall expenditure breaks down across key areas:

There’s quite detailed information about what Auckland Transport will focus on, including a list of their capital projects as well as an explanation of what cost savings they will be pursuing.

Most attention has been paid to some of the potential impacts of the budget on various community services the council provides, especially through funding provided by Local Boards. And it does seem like some of these cuts could be pretty devastating, even though they don’t really save that much money in the scheme of things. Some of the ‘nastier’ cuts include:

  • Cuts to regional events, arts & culture programmes, educational services, Citizens Advice Bureaus, the highly successful Southern Initiative programme and climate action programmes
  • Cuts to regional contestable community grants
  • Reduction in local board funding
  • No improvement to bus, train or ferry services (aside from some new services when the northwest bus improvements open later in the year)
  • A reduction in opening hours, or higher entry prices, for major facilities like the Zoo, Art Gallery etc.
  • A slowdown of urban regeneration activities across Auckland

I think the thing that’s frustrating about this budget is how quickly it jumps to some pretty horrible gutting of services that add immense value to the city, while leaving other potential areas untouched for seemingly no good reason. I wouldn’t think that it’s too hard to avoid almost all of the nastier cuts proposed in this budget, through a combination of:

  • Revenue increases in areas like parking and enforcement, where Auckland Transport has continued to be completely useless in recent years. Why should public transport fares increase when some parking rates haven’t been changed for over five years?

  • A ‘real’ rates increase that’s similar to what we’ve had for most of the past 12 years – a couple of percentage points above inflation keep up the real value of Council’s income and allow the city to slowly make progress. This means something like 8-9% overall rates increase, rather than the proposed 4.66%. This change alone would probably avoid the need for most of the nasty cuts proposed in Council’s budget.
  • Selling some of the golf courses Council owns. According to this Spinoff article, Auckland Council owns nearly $3 billion worth of golf courses (mostly their land value, presumably). There seems no sensible reason for the council to continue owning this land, especially when some of the golf courses it owns (A.F. Thomas Park near Smales Farm and Chamberlain Park in Mt Albert) are right next to existing or planned rapid transit stations and would make for incredible transit-oriented developments.

The Council’s consultation document leaves the door open for different approaches to what has been put forward in the draft Budget. Most notably, it entertains Council having slightly higher debt levels, as well as general rates increases of up to 13.5%. One of the main reasons the document has done it, is to give the council flexibility to respond to submissions. So get those submissions in before the 28th!

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  1. This year’s one-year Budget sets the baseline for the main event, the ten-year one being reworked next year.

    Both can be approached constructively or with rancid fear. Guess which one is driving this mayor’s voters?

    1. Which is so weird to me. His (typical) voter (and by necessity I am generalising) is much more well-off and secure than the average Auckland resident.

      But sadly, more wealth never seems to translate into more generosity or wisdom. Individually it may, but as a group it seems to translate into “mine mine mine” …

      Or the Council equivalent of “Why are we spending all this [useless project] funding which isn’t even benefitting [my ward]”?

  2. Should Labour be returned to power I expect so moves will be made to – how shall we put it? – free up more time in the mayors calendar for his tennis partners until such time as this boomer last stand can be replaced.

    1. Brown’s voters and the apparatus that supported him into office – including the National party’s campaign manager – will not go away so easily.

      Need a coordinated movement to elect strong alternatives who can make the case for change and engage doubters constructively and urgently.

      1. Hooten has already abandoned Brown, queues for buses can’t go on forever and I’d be surprised if a lot of his supporters are still supporting him after recent events, and he did’t even have that many supporters, simply a lack of turnout to vote

        . If his support fails withn council then he will be a lame duck. Whichever party takes government they can’t gut Auckland and let it get worse, it’s too important to let it just die.

        1. Both Sacha and Joe are correct. W. Brown is a dead man walking, his own supporters abandoned him over his egotistical and callous approach to the floods. However: that just means they’ll shift to the next Hooton/Ben Thomas backed “service cuts, rate cuts, own the libs” candidate. Also, M. Lee, M. Williamson and all their idiot friends are still doing evil in Council. We need to organise our own forces.

        2. Yep, there was no one to vote for, I personally thought Viv was the highest qualified candidate we had. But she pulled out unfortunately. Hopefully a few more good people come to the next election so we had a choice.

        3. I think the solution is to get rid of directly elected mayors and get rid of the Auckland nonsense where the mayor’s office writes the budget. Councils should elect their own leader and be free to roll them if they don’t have confidence of the majority of elected members. We do it with Prime Ministers. It is brutally efficient and gives a better chance of avoiding dysfunction.

        4. I had a look at the Herald comments yesterday after Wayne Brown was interviewed by Mike Hosking. Every comment favoured Brown’s policy of reducing traffic delays and downplaying the need for road safety. The top rated comments also asked for the immediate removal of speed bumps and cycleways. Brown has many supporters.

        5. Is Wayne Brown being interviewed by Mike Hosking the most rancid combination of interviewer/interviewee possible? How did it work out? I confess I don’t think I could bear to listen to it – but was anything intelligent said?

  3. In his one and only interview with RNZ,Mayor Brown said golf courses were a part of flood mitigation,we need to keep green spaces. That should not mean that the green space is locked up ,except for the privileged few. This and the inability to leverage further revenue from parking and enforcement,is akin to getting in the lifeboat and pushing everyone else in the water away.Such entitled thinking,ultimately makes Auckland a poorer place to live in,IMO,it is not serving it’s population well.

  4. I’m no golfer, and support either reconfiguration (per dropped Chamberlain plans) or charging appropriate rates and lease values to the private clubs, but much as I hate agreeing with Mayor ZB, just check the flood maps on council GIS, most of them are at least half flood plains, some of them even more than that.

    I’d also suggest starting with the ones occupied by exclusive private clubs, not the only two public courses.

    1. Yes, looking at AF Thomas Park, the part which was built by filling in a wetland is showing as a floodplain…but no more than the area around it.
      The answer is to make that part wetland again, with forested surrounds and some open areas of public access land (park), to provide a service to the surrounding area. And the other part can be developed like Hobsonville Point, which is relatively dense housing, with a high level of stormwater infrastructure. Don’t just sell it off, but re-zone it first. There would still be three golf courses remaining on the North Shore alone.

    2. There has to be a way that golf courses can become more multi-use in terms of space, either as green sinks or through creative planting that allows them to be more flexible in their use.

      Perfectly manicured fairways for hundreds of yards might be the go at Augusta or St Andrews, but I’d like to see NZ designers take a new approach and see if we can assert a bold interpretation of how a golf course in an urban environment could look – and if that means doubling as green space for transit links, then why not? Why don’t we challenge ourselves to live into our exceptionalism once in a while?

  5. If golf courses are to be sold then it should start with Remuera and Takapuna courses. Leave the working mans Chamberlain alone until then – recall the community support that overturned the makeup of the Eden-Albert board over the previously proposed redevelopment.
    Per proposed budget numbers, rates revenue $2,452M after 4.66% increase (7% increase less NETR, WQTR & LTDS pauses). If the $125M cut to operating expenditure were to be covered by a rates increase, then 4.66% would become about 10%. Politically thats a hard sell.
    In the last year of Goff, debt went from $757M to $11.1B. The rising costs of servicing this debt is a burden that doesn’t need adding to.
    Given the state of council accounts, the fiscal hole and debt left by Goff, the councils $500M share of the current CRL blowout and indication that there will be an additional future overrun, current stagflation and looming recession, I don’t see much choice than the proposed budget.

  6. So just on the parking building at Manukau on Ronwood avenue this could be converted to give favourable rates for long term storage. The principal target would be for airport traveller’s. They could then use the Airport link to get to and from the airport. The Manukau bus station is less than 5 mins walk away. It could also be used for Intercity bus passengers to leave their cars while they are away on a short break and even train passengers on a weekend away in Hamilton as the Airport link stops at Puhinui Station. The other potential user would be out of town people who would rather not drive in Auckland and are happy to use public transport for the duration of their stay. There is also the possibility of a bus stop right out side the facility for the truly lazy or infirm.

  7. AT should do their job and ticket people all over the city who continue to park on footpaths and cycle lanes. They could actually be a lucrative income stream.

    1. I was recently ticketed $60 for parking at a Westhaven carpark, PierZ, on a Sunday morning in the middle of a storm. No one else was about. Very annoying when, anecdotally, idiots parking all over the footpaths seem to get away with it. Someone was doing their job that morning I can tell you!

      1. That is a private car park.

        It is also not that the council doesn’t employ parking wardens. It is that they have a very peculiar choice of when to enforce the rules. If you park during clearway hours in a clearway, you will not get away with it either.

  8. Yeah, the context is the rates AT charges for parking at on-road and its parking buildings.

    Untouched for 5yrs and the latter are probably all under the market rate charged by Wilsons, etc.

  9. Everything they are doing is stupid. AT now making public transport more expensive again, versus the Government 50% price and now a bit more for beneficiaries and those GOLD carders. Why not give everyone a TITANIUM card for public transport? Better for the environment, better for the wealthy that Auckland Council wants to help. What is a few hundred million versus the gazillion billion we need to spend to save our city, our country, and our people? Boomers in the council will say they want to help their grandchildren but their properties are disappearing off the cliffs and the best help they can give is doing everything possible to make this city full of apartments and green parks, rather than roads and carparks, and parking garages. Cars are what cause problems, if there were no cars allowed in the city, it would be the safest place anybody could hope for. And the question is always, why are we the last in the world to do what the serious cities of the world have been doing for hundreds of years? Auckland Council is old enough to remember the trams that the motorways destroyed. The Onehunga Train was a realised dream into the city this morning, and gives belief that our city can survive; if only we all believed in trains and electricity. Oh wait, we all do!

  10. So AT are going to lock in their run-down crappy bus service and not look to improve it until ‘demand increases’. I get the driver shortage problem, but if you don’t improve the quality of the service then demand will max out equal to those who have no choice but to use it. For everyone else, if the offer is crap they’ll choose an alternative that better meets their needs. Demand will be artificially capped. AT need to work on the demand side not just the supply side. As much as I’d like to use the bus it seems I’ll have to keep driving for the foreseeable future.

  11. I’m time poor. Like really time poor. Does anyone know of any template submissions to use? e.g. previous Gen Zero campaigns were fantastic.

    1. Ask someone in your family or friend group to help you. Mrs mfwic wrote an excellent submission. I am in favour of selling golf courses so libraries and social programs can continue. My submission is way better than I could have written.

  12. Discussion may be good and healthy, but DON’T FOGET TO SUBMIT!! Sorry for shouting – I get a bit bothered.

  13. Put pressure on the Government to change the Rating Act to allow rating of Church and Government property

  14. We’ll given the minimal services received from the council here, I’m going for lowest possible rates increase.

  15. No to golf courses being sold. Incredibly short sighted. All for turning some into parks but auckland needs to retain all the green space it can as we intensify the rest of the city.

    Chamberlain park would be a good asset as a park rather than a golf course especially if they put green bridges over the motorway to connect it with western springs.

  16. Most of the points are spot on apart from a few that stuck out:

    “it means we’re stuck with continuing to run the current number of bus services, even though that’s a massive cut on what we used to run due to the bus driver shortage.”
    This is irrelevant and we must look at public transport services provided against demand for them. If the levels are still at 67% of pre-COVID, it makes sense that AT won’t run buses empty. Besides, the consultation document clearly states that services will be reinstated when – or more correctly if – demand and therefore farebox revenue recovers.

    “Selling some of the golf courses Council owns. According to this Spinoff article, Auckland Council owns nearly $3 billion worth of golf courses (mostly their land value, presumably).”
    You acknowledge that the value comes from the land they sit on, and it’d be fair to say that no developer paying market rates would keep those spaces green. Selling the couple of billion in AIA shares doesn’t cost the council nearly as much from a social point of view.

    1. You can’t just cut public transport and say it should only be increased when demand increases. The whole point of it is that it runs consistently and frequently.
      This is why it should not be about making profit, it needs to be a service that always runs, so that people when they are coming home from a late shift or movie at 10pm know a bus will be shortly arriving – not cancelled and the next one is an hour away.

  17. Proposed cuts to climate change action is typical. What happened to the Emergency?
    30 years of delays to climate change mitigation is only making needed actions more urgent and expensive.
    We cannot allow “business as usual” on this matter any longer.
    This mayor and Council already unfit for purpose by ignoring the Emergency.

  18. What’s most bewildering here is the unwillingness to spend money to make money, a.k.a. investing.

    – Want more revenue for AT? Hire more parking wardens and obtain the necessary powers from central government to increase fines.
    – Too much traffic on the roads? Introduce workplace car parking levy (I believe this legislation already exists) and make plan for congestion charging
    – Need long-term funding? Develop masterplans to develop golf courses into high-amenity, high-density neighbourhoods
    – Short of cash? Raise rates and be honest about what you need the money for, a la Wellington.

    Rather than thinking about the future of the city, This is just austerity for the sake of tit – a Scrooge mayorality.

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