What the drums are beating

Last updated 08:57 24/07/2012

It was probably from a Tarzan Saturday afternoon film matinee but it keeps running through my head.

Two big game hunters, their tropical helmets sitting beside them on the wide verandah, sipping gin and tonics against a not-too-distant chorus of drums. One sums up: “The natives seem restless tonight.”

A quick switch to not-so-greater-Auckland. The drums are beating here that the ratepayers are restless.

The sceptics feel their misgivings have been borne out. Even those who were carried away by Rodney Hide rhetoric are having their doubts. Understandably.

That $2 billion rail tunnel plan somehow suggested a repeat of that ancient advice: “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

Buying as its new headquarters the ASB's $100-plus million 31 storey office block in Albert St, reportedly four times the size of the 19 level current Civic Building overlooking Aotea Centre, is the latest suspect grand plan.

Borrowing to do so, of course.

Then there's the added figures and facts that go with the plan.

For instance that it will house 2400 of the council staff.

With this worrying PS: “Two thousand four hundred of the council's 6000”! Good grief, so they actually need the equivalent of two more tower blocks for that size of staff.

Question: How many people in total did it take to run the various councils before they were merged? One official explanation why the Civic Building may be demolished is that it has leak problems, is not up to code, is too small, needs a new facade. There's even been a suggestion - not in this paper - of an asbestos problem.

Which puzzles Dame Cath Tizard who told me she remembers being evicted from her mayoral office there like everyone else for months late in the 1980s until the experts said they had got it all out.

She has a photo of herself holding the last bag.

So much for asbestos but have council workers really been housed in an environment which didn't meet the council's own building code. If so, would the council's officers have allowed the same dispensation to some city corporate?

Any wonder the ratepayers who were kidnapped into the city without being asked are worried.

And those drums are beating.

In the mailbag:

“Congratulations on bringing to our attention the very real future financial danger that we citizens of the so-called super-city could be in.

"Many of us did not want the super-city, which was forced on us, and many of us did not want the present mayor, who is forcing his pet projects on us.

“If we merely had to put up with his daft and often disastrous ideas, we could learn to live with them (unless we were the unfortunate victims of his underground rail plans, losing our homes and livelihoods) but his grandiose schemes are funded by us, the ratepayers.

“What gives him the right to spend our hard-earned dollars with so little regard for the people who pay? Remember how Mangawhai residents are now facing bankruptcy through the Kaipara District Council's ineptitude.

“The council's original estimate for a sewerage treatment scheme was $16 million which - due to incompetence - ballooned out to a debt of $63m and the council's total debt became $90m - in a sparsely populated country area.

"For example, one ratepayer who bought his bach for $10,000 a few years ago now faces $10,000 in rates a year to service and pay off the council's debt - a debt not of his making.

"How can anyone afford this?

“And I've also read that several towns in the US which have gone bankrupt, have opened the jails which they can't afford to run and emptied the murderers, rapists and other violent criminals on the streets. Luckily that will not be our fate if our city ever goes bankrupt but it could mean that we too go the way of the unfortunate ratepayers of Mangawhai.

“We will be impoverished through no fault of our own by people we elected to do a responsible job. Spending money in this extravagant fashion in hard times that we've been promised will only get harder is utterly irresponsible.

“If Auckland city goes into receivership will the mayor and counsellors and the heads of departments who advised be held accountable? The council are in fact directors of our company and if they force through extravagant decisions that many people oppose should they not be held accountable if it all turns to custard? Even though we will still be paying the bills?

“Meantime, out here in the sticks, we have a small piece of grass which louts churn up every weekend with their hyped-up cars. It's now just a mess of muddy circles.

“When the residents asked for some form of bollards and chains to protect our environment costing, I suppose, a thousand dollars or so, we were told there is no money allocated for bollards. But plenty to finance the whims of our whimsical mayor." - Name supplied

“Your excellent column ‘Another outbreak of tunnel vision?' covered many of the things that worry ratepayers. It should be sent as a submission to the Local Government Amendment Bill which close on July 26.

“A suggestion for another column: You will have heard of the LGFA (Local Funding Agency Scheme). This is very risky allowing councils to borrow too much money.

“It also means that if one council borrows too much and has trouble repaying its debt all other councils in the scheme are guarantors.

“This could mean that councils could lose their position as a safe domestic bond provider. I am sure that many ratepayers are unaware of this." - Suzanne Norcott, Howick

“I chuckled at your list of stuff-ups by local government. You are right about the trains bought by the Auckland Regional Council.

“Funnily enough I have been looking at that in the context of my nearly completed history of Auckland City Council 1989-2010.

“There was a frantic effort to get trains for the opening of Britomart in 2003. The ARC didn't have its transport funding on stream until the middle of 2004 when reorganisation in Auckland gave them back ownership of the ports and access to more revenue.

“So the ARC were obliged to find some trains when they had little money and found that with our small gauge there was little available. New ones were beyond budget and couldn't be built in time, and the only ones that could be located were out of the Zig Zag railway museum near Sydney!

“They'd been built in the 1960s! Whew! And yes, they broke down a lot.” - Michael Bassett, St Mary's Bay

- Western Leader

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