The fortunes of Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum are showing early signs of a turnaround, according to Warrnambool City Council.
While the annual report showed the cost of keeping the major tourist attraction had ballooned to $740,000 last financial year, council said that figure was misleading because this year it had included the Visitor Information Centre running costs in the data.
It said the real cost to the council of running Flagstaff Hill last year was $550,000 while the Visitor Information Centre cost $190,000.
That figure was $49,000 less than in 2017-18, when the council propped it up to the tune of $599,000 - almost $200,000 more than it had budgeted for that year.
While the financial performance of the struggling tourist attraction showed improvement year-on-year, there were also encouraging signs that things had improved further since July 1.
A statement from the council said councillors would be fully briefed on Flagstaff Hill's performance next week.
"Early indications are positive with a revenue bounce as a result of a popular September school holiday activity programming, more ticketing options for the night show and general marketing efforts," it said.
"In short, the hard work of staff and volunteers is reflected in some encouraging numbers."
Cr Peter Hulin, who has been outspoken on the need to reign in costs, said the council had lost that much money on the facility it was "ridiculous". "It's costing far too much and it hasn't been dealt with for the last decade and it needs to desperately looked at," he said. "We were told when we did the $3 million upgrade everything was going to be great and it hasn't changed anything. What are we trying to do to mitigate the cost?"
Holiday cash bonanza
The foreshore holiday parks continue to be a cash bonanza for the city council's bottom line, raking in $1.011 million profit last financial year.
Surfside and Shipwreck Bay holiday parks brought in $3.066 million last financial year, to give the city the million-dollar profit after expenses - $188,000 more than budget expectations.
In 2017-18, the caravan parks made $1.15 million profit.
The council is currently working on a five-year strategic plan for both foreshore holiday parks with site visits taking place last summer and user surveys already conducted.
Back in the black
The council finished the year with a higher than expected $1.71m surplus - a turnaround from last year's $370,000 deficit.
The council said one-off grants for future projects were the reason for the healthier bottom line following last year's deficit which was blamed on the recycling crisis, a more expensive animal management contract and lost parking revenue because of the CBD renewal.
The council's accounting surplus of $13.96 million was up on the previous year's $6.02m surplus, driven up by non-recurrent funding that will be spent in the 2019-20 year such as some Reid Oval funding and Merrivale Recreation Reserve funding.
Revenue collected from rates rose by more than $2.3 million to about $38.3 million
The council's staff costs increased by $1.3 million to $33.19m, its annual report showed.
In an effort to curb growing employee costs, the council said late last year it had cut two per cent from a budgeted three per cent growth in its wages bill by not filling vacant positions, dropping casual positions and reducing hours of part-timers.
However, the council now employs the equivalent of 395.3 full-time staff, up from last year's 391.6. In July, council staff voted down a proposed enterprise agreement.
Is it time to merge?
Cr Hulin said the "whole organisation" needed a complete restructure.
"We really need to sit down seriously with our adjoining councils, especially Moyne and just work out whether there are things we can absolutely do together to save money," he said. "We as a city are paying a lot for Moyne to use. It just makes sense for us to be united.
"Considering we're in such a poor state at the moment you think this would be the perfect time to actually look at a merger."
He pointed to Greater Shepparton as a similar-sized council to Warrnambool that was working well.
"Their staff numbers are considerably less than ours and they seem to be able to obtain a lot more funding by being a much larger area," he said.
How much do councillors cost us?
Our elected councillors cost just over $282,000 in allowances and expenses each year, about $5000 more than last year courtesy of a two per cent pay rise.
While their combined wages actually went up $10,000, the councillors spent $5000 less on expenses such as phones, computers, training, meals and accommodation last financial year.
Councillors receive about $28,282 a year, which includes superannuation, to perform their duties which includes 63 council meetings and briefings - more than one a week.
On top of that, councillors also attend other committee meetings, functions and events throughout the year.
Cr Robert Anderson's allowance and Mayor Tony Herbert's allowance reflect their higher pay for the mayoral allowance. While Cr Kylie Gaston's allowance was slightly lower than her fellow councillors this year, she said that was because of a payment error in her last month as mayor where she was accidentally paid for the whole month, rather than part of the month.
The overpayment was then taken out of her allowance which is reflected in this year's annual report.
Cr Gaston said the allowance was not a lot of money considering the work involved for councillors and the mayor. "It's pretty constant," she said. "You don't do it for the money that's for sure."
Cr Gaston said councillors should be well paid if they want good people to be on council, with councillors often having to give up other things to perform the role. The amount councillors get paid is based on population.
"It's ironic, in Melbourne they get $44,000 I think...and I don't think they've got any more difficult decisions," she said. "You can see what we've spent on meals and accommodation and that's all recorded. We don't have credit cards. We don't need them for that matter."
Cr Anderson, who served one term as mayor, was the only councillor to turn up to all 63 council meetings and briefings and said he hadn't missed one in the three years he'd been on council.
He said he understood that other councillors went on holidays at different times for various reasons, but he tried to time his around the meetings and briefings. "I give it 100 per cent," he said.
Cr Hulin missed 13, and said he was overseas for many of those missed meetings and briefings. However, he said he came back with a tonne of information for the council from local governments overseas. "Even though I'm not at the council meetings, I'm still doing council work," he said.
Cr Sue Cassidy missed 11 meetings and briefings, Cr Mike Neoh six, Cr Owen four, and Cr Gaston and Cr Herbert three.
Key management costs
The council spent more than $1.39 million paying its key staff last financial year - a figure that also includes councillor allowances.
No staff were listed as being in the top tier of more than $320,000 last financial year, but that was because there was a change of chief executive officer in January.
One senior staff member was paid a total remuneration package, including super, of between $120,000 and $129,999, one was on $180,000-$189,999, three were on between $200,000 and $209,000 and another had package between $220,000-$229,999.
Motorists pay $194,000 more in car park fines
Motorists forked out $194,000 more in parking fines in Warrnambool last financial year compared with the previous year.
The council raked in $641,000 in parking fine revenue in 2018-19 compared with $443,000 the year before, the city council's newly adopted annual report shows.
That parking fine revenue was expected to grow to $680,000 this financial year after it increased the fines by $10 to $80 on July 1.
The council had also budgeted $1.5 million in parking fees for the 2019-20 financial year on top of the $680,000 in fines and infringements.
About a third of money collected from the parking fees is directed into a special car parking fund which will be used for upgrades in the city centre.
The rest of the funds collected from car parking fees goes towards parking management operations and administration.
Footpaths in the central business district are the next on the list to be funded courtesy of car parking fees.
The car parking fund is used for upgrades such as the car park expansion at Grace Avenue and car parking improvements such as new disabled parking bays, the council said in a statement.
The council cited disabled car park improvements or additions in Timor Street, at the front of Warrnambool Medical Clinic's Liebig Street entrance, as well as Lava Street, Koroit Street and in the Archie Graham car park as examples of recent works.
The footpath improvement program for the CBD is expected to begin in 2020-21, by which time there will be sufficient funds in the car parking fund to cover the works.
Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in the south-west.