Chair’s report May 2020 – Vision West’s food bank, Council’s emergency budget and Titirangi chickens redux

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Vision West and food parcels

It has been good to get out of lockdown.  While I enjoyed the slower pace of life, the quietness of our streets and the cleanliness of our skies it could not last forever.  Although I hope that we do not lose what we have learned during that time, including that we do not have to drive as much as we used to.  We can spread our time working between the office or workplace and home.  And we don’t have to consume as much as we used to.  I have not visited a mall since the lockdown has finished and I suspect many others are in the same position.

But it is important that the economy gets back to work.  I am quietly confident that the devastation that we have seen overseas will not happen here.  Certainly our health system is in good shape.  The expected surge of hospitalisations did not happen and we did not experience what China or Italy went through or what the United States, Brazil and England are currently going through.

But the repercussions are significant.  Already unemployment is increasing although not at the rate that it is in the United States.  And the people most affected are those at the bottom of the socio-economic pile.

I spent a morning delivering food parcels for Vision West.  They are doing tremendous work making sure that locals most in need are getting groceries.  The operation is quite extraordinary.  Large areas of the Glen Eden Baptist Church have been set aside for the storage and collation of hundreds of packs.  Vision West and in particular Brook Turner and Lisa Woolley deserve our thanks and gratitiude.

I am keen for the local board to do what it can for Vision West and hopefully some logistical assistance can be provided by Council.  We are also seeing what we can do to give them a presence in the township. 

Unfortunately it seems clear that food parcels will have to continue for a while.  The country will see a surge in employment as the effects of the wage subsidy wear off.  Council staff have been identified that those on the bottom of the economic pile are and are going to feel the effects of Covid worse.  So thank you to Vision West and its many volunteers.  Can you please keep your efforts up.

Council’s Emergency budget

Can I commend Councillors Desley Simpson and Shane Henderson for their efforts in giving local boards the opportunity to feed into Council’s formulation of a draft emergency budget.  There is a concept in the Auckland Council legislation of co governance, and Desley and Shane, both former chairs have done the best to make sure that it happens.

It is a difficult job.  Estimates have been made that Council could take a $250 million hit to its income next financial year.

So what does Council do?  It has a few options to cover the deficit, sell stuff, cut costs, postpone capital projects, increase income by putting up rates and charges or borrow more.

These are not mutually exclusive, a combination of “levers” can be used to achieve the desired result.

Council’s response is being worked through.  A summary of the local board’s position is as follows:

  1. We thought that most of our activity is “core activity” and cuts would have a dramatic adverse effect on the local community.
  2. Council’s spend in the environmental area is well below the spend needed to provide meaningful protection to the Waitakere Ranges. Postponing environmental protection work undoes any progress made, and makes restoration efforts more expensive overall, as we must pay extra just to get back to where we were before work was put on hold. And there are benefits for all Aucklanders in keeping local and regional parks open and properly maintained.
  3. Support for local communities is vital given the need for resilient communities to get us through the effects of Covid 19.  Libraries, community centres and parks are and will be incredibly important for local’s mental and physical health and wellbeing. 
  4. Council’s current funding formula adversely affects our local board area because our land mass is so large yet our population is relatively small.  We have many communities that are remote and that rely on networking and community strength to deal with emergencies and Council and Board support is very important.
  5. Short term savings are possible in areas such as events although we are exploring ways to continue to support events that are valuable to our communities in the near future.
  6. We thought there were options for cost savings across maintenance contracts should be investigated.  We are not convinced that current contractual arrangements are optimal. 
  7. We thought that increasing debt was the simplest and most straight forward way to deal with the current situation.  Borrowing rates are at historic lows, and the cost of borrowing is still better than in the past even if Council has to pay marginally higher premiums because of an anticipated risk profile change
  8. We did not accept the validity of threats to Council’s credit rating from credit rating agencies as being justified or appropriate.  Council should engage with credit rating agencies to get them to review their assessments of risk. We accept however that there are valid concerns about managing extent of debt as future economic climate is  uncertain and could be impacted by foreign exchange changes
  9. Capex deferrals is our second-most preferred lever.  We consider that investments that respond to climate change should be prioritised.  In particular we do not want to push back the Glen Eden beautification project.
  10. We did not favour cuts to operational budgets although minimal reductions could be tolerated.  We also noted that there are emerging needs in the community which may require increased investment in some areas. 
  11. There was no support for the sale of Assets.  We are against asset sales because it involves the transfer of wealth to private ownership and the loss of public benefit of ownership. Council’s Asset base actually gives the organisation resilience and a base to borrow against. Historically the privatisation of assets has been to the detriment of public finances and the public good.
  1. We support retention of the targeted water quality rate and environmental rate.  The money collected should continue to be spent for the purposes it was collected for and approved by the public and there should be a regional spread of the use the budget is put to.
  2. We emphasised that a climate change lense should be utilised at all times in these considerations.  We believe that Council has a significant role to play in helping Auckland recover from the effects of Covid 19.

Council is now getting ready to consult on its emergency budget.  This is a really important consultation with wide ranging effects and I recommend as many people as possible has their say on this issue.

Libraries and Community Centres

As part of the return to normal life Council is staging the reopening of its libraries.

Glen Eden has recently reopened to the relief of the local community.  There are various steps in place to help people keep in their bubbles and the number of computer terminals has had to be reduced.  But the

Titirangi library should be open within the next month or so, also with distancing measures in place.

Events

Part of the post Covid developments is to work out what will be happening to events which play an important part in the support of community.

The local board has conceded that our flagship event, the Kauri Karnival may not be possible to plan and organise in the next few months and we are accepting that it may have to be deferred for a year.

Other events have also had to be cancelled or dramatically changed.

The Glen Eden Beats and Eats events will not happen in the meantime.  This is a shame as the young musicians we were using from Crescendo Trust were magnificent and spine chillingly good.  They have regular performances on their facebook page and can I recommend you try these out.

The Going West festival, which has been a highlight of the social calendar for many years, will be in a digital form this year.  They have a lot of historical video which deserves to be preserved for posterity and we will be discussing with them their plans and how we can help them achieve their goals.

The Heritage Festival is another that will be changed dramatically for this year and it is exploring virtual ways to continue its work.

Hopefully next year the country will continue to be Covid free and we can then plan for events that reflect the more historical model.

Street beautification and walkways

One benefit of the lockdown and people walking is that they are so much more aware of the walkability of our community.  The local board has been seeing what we can do in Glen Eden to enhance the greenways plan.  I have had approaches from locals on Konini Road, Titirangi and Valley Road in French Bay to see what can happen there.

Other suggestions and proposals are welcome.  Our budgets are limited but we will see what we can do.

The water crisis

As well as the effects of Covid 19 Auckland is in the midst of a drought.  It seems strange typing this as we head into winter but rainfalls have been sporadic at best and dam levels are at historic lows.

I went to check things out just after we went into level 2.  The above photo is of the Lower Nihutopu dam.  You would expect in winter that the water level would be not far from the causeway.  Instead it was meters below.  Even in the middle of summer I have never seen it so low.

The immediate cause is clear.  Since the drought started in November we have received less than half of the normal rainfall.  Dams are on average 42% full when they are normally 75% full at this time of year.  And if it was not for Auckland pumping as much Waikato water as it was able to things would be much worse.

Given climate change and the increasing variability of weather systems

The solution?

Apart from pray for rain we have to change our relationship with water.  And instead of some big engineering projects we could look at the way we build and renovate our homes.  Stormwater tanks could provide water for toilets and gardens.  Higher tech toilets could also achieve considerable benefits.

This is one of those discussions that will continue for many years.

Titirangi’s chickens

After almost getting rid of these creatures there has been a slight resurgence in numbers.  The firm used for the original collection visited just before lockdown and captured a further eight chickens.  They will be visiting again soon and will hopefully round up the remainders.

Can I urge all members of the public, PLEASE DO NOT FEED THEM.  I understand the desire to look after creatures but this will only cause numbers to again surge.

Local board meetings

In the meantime we are still holding these in the digital world.  The country will hopefully be back in level one and we can then think about how face to face meetings will work.  Distancing requirements may still cause problems in terms of meeting size and we are still working out the implications of this.

But please contact us with your comments and suggestions.  And if you want to spend time on Skype talking to us during the public forum slot please let me know.

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