Perception is everything.
Warrnambool was crowned Australia's most liveable city in September following a national survey.
The city and the region's clean, green image is easy to promote. Our beaches are clean by world standards, our region produces world-class dairy and beef products off the back of our plentiful rain supply, we enjoy a fantastic lifestyle free of clogged roads and smog. Our health system, despite the public hospital's infrastructure limitations, is top class, we have a growing tertiary education sector with a university and TAFE.
As mayor Tony Herbert said: "All of these factors help create a sense of belonging, a sense of opportunity and contribute to the sense of pride we feel for our city".
But the city's image is suffering.
Usually well manicured median strips and parks like Lake Pertobe are unkempt; rubbish has been spewing from public bins at McGennan car park for all to observe. One of the city's biggest employers, Midfield Meat, slammed the city's look as "disgraceful" and embarrassing after hosting international business and government delegations.
Warrnambool City Council union members introduced work bans in their quest for a new pay deal. They want a two-per cent rise each year for three years or $30 a week if it is higher. The council has offered a flat two per cent rise for each of the three years. The difference between the two is about $300,000 but it could cost the city more through the use of contractors and lost business opportunities.
The council cannot agree to the union's demand. It cannot fork out an extra $300,000 when it slugged long-suffering ratepayers a big rates rise. Imposing a 4.5 per cent rates rise this financial year - well above the state regulated cap of 2.5 per cent - was like waving a red rag to a bull.
The union's case is persuasive. Its workers are in some cases paid less than their counterparts at Moyne Shire and some staff, it says, are marginally above the poverty line.
The council and union need to find a speedy resolution because our city's image is suffering. More tourists are flocking into the region as we head to the peak visitor season and the unsightly grass and rubbish leave a poor impression.