WARRNAMBOOL City Council's 5-2 voting bloc held firm last night during a heated debate in which the proposed 4.5 per cent rates rise budget was adopted without change.
Councillors traded verbal punches in a blame game where one side was accused of being out of touch with the plight of ratepayers and the oaccusedther of grandstanding to a public audience and not contributing to behind-the-scenes workshops.
Councillor Jennifer Lowe opened the dissent with a challenge to scrap the 4.5 per cent and recast the budget for a 1.6 per cent rise in line with the Consumer Price Index by reducing the surplus and borrowings and deferring capital works.
Cr Lowe said rates needed to be capped to a maximum proportion of people's income and not determined by property market values.
"Council's senior managers and councillors are paid such large salaries they are removed from pressures felt by the majority of ratepayers," she said.
Cr Lowe gained support from voting ally Cr Peter Hulin, who repeated his calls for a leaner, more efficient council with a review of every department.
"We have to show leadership," he said.
This brought a terse response from Cr John Harris, who said trimming council operations would mean cutting staff numbers.
"Four-and-a-half per cent is a very responsible budget and one of the lowest rises in the district," he said.
Cr Andrew Fawcett also warned that setting a 1.6 per cent rise would mean cutting services or staff and core responsibilities.
An irritated Cr Hulin said his comments had been misinterpreted and did not mean staff should be cut.
He outlined a long list of suggestions and criticised the 5-2 voting divide.
Cr Rob Askew tried to interrupt Cr Hulin by saying both he and Cr Lowe did not contribute their ideas during councillor workshops and were speaking out for the benefit of the gallery audience.
Mayor Jacinta Ermacora later echoed those sentiments, saying the Lowe-Hulin comments were ambitious considering they had provided little by way of participation in the workshops process.
This provoked Cr Lowe to respond: "I've been present for four years."