Auckland Council has agreed on the Emergency Budget 2020/2021.
The financial impact of COVID-19 and a one-in-200-year drought has resulted in a budget deficit forecast at $750 million.
This has meant tough decisions for councillors to meet the funding gap, guaranteeing water supply, and keeping the level of public services that Aucklanders expect.
The council agreed to an average general rates rise of 3.5 per cent, which ensures that, despite the impact of lost revenue, public services will still be delivered with as minimal cuts as possible.
This will include libraries being kept open as normal, funding restored for local boards and more investment in transport safety.
Waitākere Ward councillors Shane Henderson and Linda Cooper say this was a budget that was agonised over.
“It was a tough process making this budget work,” says Henderson, who is also Deputy Chair of the Finance and Performance Committee.
“From submissions to our budget process, it was clear that the vast majority of locals expected public services to continue to be delivered. In response, we needed to do all we could to keep the many services that are critical for our local community running.
“I’m really proud that this budget will maintain so many crucial services that West Aucklanders need. I acknowledge that, while a majority of West Aucklanders supported a 3.5 per cent rates increase, many had a different view and we respect that.
"In these times, the work and support provided by the council, especially to our most vulnerable communities, is of critical importance."
Reversing local board cuts
“In securing this budget, we have been able to reverse the proposed 10 per cent cuts to local board funding. These cuts would have significantly impacted community organisations that rely on grants to do their work.
"We’ve also worked hard to save the Henderson Animal Shelter and to keep our libraries open on full hours, so that they can continue to serve the communities that cherish them.”
Councillor Cooper agrees. “Without doubt this was the hardest budget I’ve ever been involved with,” she says.
“We were faced with an almost impossible choice, either reducing the level of rates rise, which would have meant incredibly hard cuts to services that the council provides, or increasing rates at the planned 3.5 per cent rate and enabling the work that the council does in the community to continue.
“The budget also includes help for the many people who will undoubtedly need financial relief over the coming months. I’m very pleased we were able to include that support for ratepayers, and the suspension of the Accommodation Provider Targeted Rate.
“One of the most striking things for me about this whole process was the level of engagement of Waitākere residents with the proposed budget cuts. The strength of feeling throughout the community that the council must not cut essential services was obvious.
"This budget confirms that we have taken those views to heart and have fought to maintain the services that people value most.”
Budget decisions included:
- offering assistance to ratepayers who are facing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19
- suspending the Accommodation Providers Targeted Rate until 31 March 2021
- a review of Auckland Council’s operating model and saving of $200 million across the council group
- maintaining discretionary budgets for local boards to support local projects and initiatives
- libraries' hours and services to remain the same.