Warrnambool City councillors say they will listen to community feedback about its decision to seek to raise rates above the state government regulated cap, in a move that infuriated the packed public gallery at Monday night’s meeting.
Councillors voted five-one to submit an application to the Essential Services Commission for an increase for three years, with Cr Peter Hulin voting against.
Cr David Owen was an apology for the meeting.
“It isn’t to say we are definitely going for a variation,” Cr Sue Cassidy said.
“It’s to agree to set up the community consultation and let us know what route needs to be taken. If we decide on a variation it will be hard for some people in our community, but cutting services people rely on could be a lot harder on some financially. This is the time we need to hear from people in our community to tell us what they want.”
In a speech which drew applause from the public, Cr Hulin said the shortfall in funding had to come down to the management of the city.
“Rates over the past 10 years have gone up 59.65 per cent,” he said.
“I don’t know many people who get a wage that can say theirs has gone up 59 per cent over the past ten years. Mine sure as hell hasn’t.”
He said the council needed to find efficiencies.
“As a councillor for 10 years I haven’t seen that in this organisation,” he said.
“I have seen many facets of our city, for instance Flagstaff Hill bleed money, and continue to. It hasn’t been addressed. I don’t believe in cutting services. We could restructure our organisation and work more efficiently.”
Cr Kylie Gaston said efficiencies had been leveraged since the introduction of rate capping, but said there was a limit to how far things could be tightened without cutting services and employment.
“The recommendation seeks feedback from the community,” she said.
“It’s to know if the community will pay an extra $40 per year on rates and if not we want people to tell us what they are prepared to lose or cut back on. This is an opportunity to have a mature conversation with all ratepayers. Feedback is absolutely critical. This is not a decision to definitely increase rates, and even if we decide that the ESC will make its own decision.”
Cr Mike Neoh said the ESC would look at submissions from the community and whether or not it was fair for council to up rates.
“We are under pressure,” he said.
“The costs for services are going up and the alternative is to put up fees. We need to look at all options.”
Mayor Tony Herbert said the Warrnambool community was aspirational, but services were not free.
“This stuff comes at a significant cost,” he said.
“I think it’s time to at least put it out to the community and ask what they need. All this is doing is putting it out for community consultation so this group can make an informed decision.”
Warrnambool Ratepayers Association president Brian Kelson said people couldn’t afford the extra rates.
“The council say they can’t find efficiencies, but they must be there,” he said. “If there is the natural attrition of staff, don’t replace them when they go. Nobody is saying sack people. Other businesses have to find efficiencies.”