Warrnambool ratepayers will be spared a big hike in rates next year after a spirited debate at Monday’s city council meeting.
Councillors voted 4-3 against applying for a variation to the rate cap, which was set by the state government at two per cent.
Crs Tony Herbert, Peter Hulin, Sue Cassidy and David Owen voted to squash the intention to write to the Essential Services Commission for the change, while mayor Robert Anderson, Mike Neoh and Kylie Gaston supported the proposal.
Cr Neoh acknowledged he hadn’t taken the decision to support the variation application lightly, but said “it was to ensure we can look after our assets and the alternative to that is to cut services”.
“Do we want to turn our bitumen roads into gravel?” he asked.
“Will we let our buildings become dilapidated? I don’t think we can have our cake and eat it too.”
Cr Neoh said if the variation to rate capping was not applied for, cash for community or big ticket projects would have to go into asset renewal.
He urged his fellow councillors to keep the door open, as this was only the first in a number of steps to apply for a variation.
Cr Herbert said he remained unconvinced the council had done all it could do instead of raising rates.
He asked if there had been “personal delegations” to state ministers about cost shifting to councils from the government.
“I also remain unconvinced that council needs to be running some businesses and services in the city that the private sector can and should be doing,” he said.
“Council does not exist to compete against the private sector, it’s there to support the private sector.”
Cr Herbert said before he could support a rate rise he needed information on what efficiencies and new income streams the council could make in the next two years and a full audit of the council’s freehold land and a discussion around what could be surplus to current needs.
He also wants a list of all buildings and assets that had been identified as in need of the extra money.
Cr Hulin said he believed it was a “lazy option”.
“I think it’s an insult to the citizens of our city to even consider this,” he said.
He challenged chief executive officer Bruce Anson to find the efficiencies.
Cr Cassidy suggested giving it one more year before a rate rise. She said she felt for the CBD traders who would not support a rate rise.
Cr Owen said there had not been enough research into where the council could make its own savings.
He said Liebig Street traders were being crushed.
“I don’t think we need to apply the thumbscrews any tighter,” he said.
Cr Kylie Gaston said rural councils were being crushed by rate capping, and were cutting services and not updating assets.
“As a regional council, that puts pressure on us,” she said.
A council report said the consequence of not being successful in a rate cap variation application was “a very real possibility for the reduction of services to the community, or the reducing condition of our assets”.