WARRNAMBOOL’S rates are set to rise by 5.5 per cent next financial year as the city council redirects its attention to improving streetscapes and other infrastructure.
The 2014-15 draft budget was released last night for public comment, with council executives claiming the rate rise could have been as low as 3.5 per cent if it wasn’t for cost-shifting from Canberra on to local government.
City centre renewal and drainage restoration in east Warrnambool were the key capital work items included in the budget, which also included extra cash for car parking.
An “infrastructure fund” was included for the first time — 0.5 per cent of the rate rise being channelled directly into smaller community projects in towns such as Dennington, Allansford and Bushfield as well as the city’s suburbs.
More than $64 million worth of day-to-day services will be subsidised with $19.5 million from the ratepayer, representing roughly 30 per cent of the total cost, which is significantly less than the 50 per cent metropolitan benchmark.
Warrnambool mayor Michael Neoh echoed Treasurer Joe Hockey’s comments on the “end of the age of entitlement”, adding that capital works and other expenditure were kept as low as possible.
He said the council had kept rate rises to a minimum during the past 24 months and the 2014-15 budget erred on the conservative side.
“Some councils raise their rates by 10 per cent one year then two per cent the following year,” Cr Neoh said.
“But Warrnambool has been consistent and shied away from sudden and excessive rate rises.”
Last night, councillors were deadlocked 3-3 when voting on the motion to make the draft budget public with councillors Peter Hulin, Brian Kelson and Peter Sycopoulis opposing the proposition due to the drafted rate rise.
Cr Neoh used his casting vote to endorse the proposition with Cr Jacinta Ermacora not present at the meeting.
The magnitude of the proposed rate rise was criticised by Cr Kelson, who said the rate rise should be in lock-step with the CPI.
Councillors Hulin and Sycopoulis said the council needed to rein in expenses, singling out Flagstaff Hill, AquaZone swimming pool and the Fun4Kids Festival as most costly to ratepayers.
“I can’t believe we just stick with this dinosaur practice of raising rates year after year without actually having a hard look at savings,” Cr Hulin said.
Only three people sat in the public gallery at last night’s meeting, a stark contrast to last month’s marathon meeting related to the Warrnambool saleyards debate which more than 250 people attended.
Council chief executive Bruce Anson described the draft budget as “not expansionary”, the bean-counters erring on the conservative side with capital works.
He said federal government grants had failed to adjust for either inflation or the CPI during the past few years, placing a greater impost on municipalities nationwide.
“Despite external pressures, we see this as a conservative budget that strives to live within its means,” Mr Anson said yesterday.
“The two key aspects of this budget are city renewal and service delivery.
“City renewal is an area we’ve been working towards for a number of years and is a change from the past few budgets, which have been focused on grappling with population growth.”