Auckland councillors back to budget debate, still divided over airport shares sale

Emma Stanford for RNZ

Auckland councillors will have another go at signing off the city's controversial budget after a major concession from the mayor over the sale of airport shares.

The council failed to get to a vote on Thursday but Mayor Wayne Brown has a new proposal - selling just eight percent of the shares instead of the entire 18 percent.

It will mean more spending cuts and a rates hike of 7.7 percent - more than the rate of inflation.

Brown said he felt "tired" to have to come back today, and described Thursday's meeting as "long".

Waitematā and Gulf Ward Councillor Mike Lee said it was sensible to hash it out again this morning.

"Good decisions take time. There should be no rush on this one because this is forever and there's a huge amount at stake. We haven't really got into the core of the debate yet."

Waitākere Ward Councillor Shane Henderson said he wanted the budget nailed as quickly as possible to provide some certainty for Aucklanders.

"But we still need time to work it through together as a team so hopefully we'll get a compromise together that I think most people will buy into and that will be a good result for Auckland," he said.

Julie Fairey, who represents the Albert-Puketāpapa Ward, said she would rather see a widely-supported compromise agreed upon today than something hastily put together and barely passing on Thursday.

But Christine Fletcher would have rather stayed late Thursday night.

"By adjourning there really runs a risk that perhaps where agreements might have been reached, they may be lost," she said.

Three councillors fully supported selling all the airport shares - Andy Baker, Desley Simpson and Maurice Williamson.

Lee did not think they should be sold, even just a few.

"I've heard no coherent argument that a partial sale is any better than a full sale in the long-term."

Fletcher refused to be drawn on which way she would vote but said council assets like airport shares needed to be protected.

"I am determined that we can create some fund that we can put our assets into for the future, that can't be raided like a cookie jar."

Other changes include a proposed $4 million funding cut for local boards which Manurewa-Papakura Ward's Daniel Newman said would be "difficult".

"Some of the consequential changes to the budget will be required because we can't divest all the shares, but still not done yet," he said.

Cuts to funding for the Kauri Kids early childhood centres remain in place but local boards would be able to reinstate the money in their areas if they want to.

Fairey worked on the revised proposal for the service and hoped it would get across the line.

"These centres are actually different from a lot other early childcare centres so there is a chance for them to continue their unique character, hopefully if we can get agreement."

It could be another long day for councillors with the chance the debate may spill over into next week.