WARRNAMBOOL City Council has played down criticism of its $550,000 bill for legal fees in 2011 to 2013 by explaining that $385,000 was for planning and rezoning challenges.
There had been speculation much of the cost went towards resolving disciplinary action and internal disputes.
A response to a submission on the proposed new municipal budget to be discussed tonight says “planning and rezoning processes are very expensive but essential” for residential and industrial growth. “A typical planning panel cost is between $80,000 to $100,000,” the budget report says.
Ratepayer Roy Hahn wrote that he found the figure “staggering” and called for the council to be more open.
He and three other ratepayers lodged written submissions, mostly challenging the proposed 5.5 per cent overall rates rise.
Mr Hahn also questioned continued support for the loss-making activities including Fun4Kids Festival, Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, AquaZone, art gallery and Lighthouse Theatre.
He also sought an explanation on the parking and vehicle entitlements for council staff. The written response says the projected rate increase was 3.5 per cent, but this had to be increased to deal with “non-operational issues” with wages rising 4.4 per cent, and goods and services purchases costs up 3.9 per cent. Rates are calculated to generate $31.1 million while payment to employees will be $28.3m.
Major events and festivals including Fun4Kids starting next Sunday are expected to cost the council $1.14m. The week-long children’s showcase has been justified as a key boost to Warrnambool’s winter calendar and economy.
Flagstaff Hill is expected to make a $427,000 loss next financial year, but the council budget reply says the venue draws 60,000 visitors annually of which 90 per cent were from outside the city.
The art gallery and Lighthouse Theatre are projected cost $641,000, while AquaZone and the Arc stadium are expected to run at a loss of $418,000.
Provision of these services is important in maintaining Warrnambool’s liveability which attracts new citizens including professionals, the budget reply says.
On the staff vehicles issue, the budget reply says all senior employees with a council vehicle pay up to $10,000 for the entitlement and all vehicles are pooled for general staff business use in daytime.
Tonight’s meeting starts at 5.45pm.