Warrnambool City Council has failed to appropriately measure efficiencies to help drive a healthy budget, the newly elected Warrnambool Ratepayers Association president says.
Joan Kelson said the association was disappointed with the council's proposal to increase rates by 1.5 per cent in the city's $86.7m Draft Budget 2021-2022.
"We believe it's financially possible for council to freeze the rates and they should be doing more to make that possible," she said.
"Council wants to raise the rates yet they've shown no signs that they're spending the ratepayer's money wisely."
Mrs Kelson said it didn't appear the council had implemented any of the operational efficiencies highlighted in its own internal review conducted about two years ago.
"There are opportunities that are being missed," she said.
"From a ratepayers point of view, why should we be paying an increase when they haven't implemented what they should?"
Mrs Kelson said the association was concerned about an increase in council employees revealed in the draft budget.
"It all comes back to those operational efficiencies and as far as I can see, they haven't found or implemented any, or very few," she said.
Warrnambool mayor Vicki Jellie told The Standard when the draft budget was released that council had endeavoured to balance the expectations of the community within the limits of rate capping.
"We now want to hear from Warrnambool residents about how they feel the budget will serve them over the next year," she said.
"We have made the difficult decision to propose a rate increase of 1.5 per cent. This was done because we wanted to maintain council services and to look after the infrastructure we have.
"We recognise that for some the increase in rates - about $32 for the average household - will be a financial burden so we've strengthened our hardship provisions and added a $35 rebate for those who have demonstrated they face financial hardship."
The Standard asked the community a series of questions about Warrnambool City Council's budget in a survey.
Nearly half of the 100 respondents believed it was more important to save $32 on their rate bills than balance the city's finances.
"Sick of exorbitant annual rate rises. There never seems to be any other solutions," one respondent said.
"Reduce the rates. They are too expensive," another said. "This is a small provincial town which thinks it is a city. It is a service town to the farming community. It has no major manufacturing except supporting the farming areas."
One person said a rate rise shouldn't happen but "poor management previously and a lack of action this time means it has to happen".
28 per cent said balancing finances was more important and the remaining didn't know or believed both should occur.
"Both are important," one person said.
"How about balancing the city's finances by looking internally before slapping more onto the ratepayers. I'm very sure there are savings that could be made by eliminating some of the waste that goes on."
"If the council managed their funds better we should be able to do both. Too much waste." another said.
68 per cent of respondents said they weren't happy with councillors opting for the highest pay allowance, with many saying it would have been OK if they had not previously campaigned for a pay cut.
"I appreciate the work involved in a council role but all councillors knew of the demands before they were elected," one person said.
"Instead of increasing rates how about they take a pay cut."
22 per cent agreed with the high pay allowance, stating it was a difficult and demanding job.
"If you pay peanuts you get monkeys," a participant said.
Mrs Kelson said that at the top rate, current councillors would be paid the same as the previous ones.
"A lot of people seem to think they're giving themselves a rise but they're not," she said.
"If someone is doing their job well I don't have a problem with them being paid accordingly but if they're not doing their job well, I do have a problem."
73 per cent of respondents did not support paying more for waste management while receiving 26 less red bin rubbish pick ups.
"Council has certainly lost the plot on this one," one respondent said.
"Most families with young kids will be having to take rubbish to the tip themselves fortnightly as a result."
Another said there were too many bins and it was "getting to the point of ridiculous".
"Council could employ staff to sort the recycling - much cheaper than buying, distributing and collecting extra bins," they said.
"Under this new system they would be collecting hundreds of bins each fortnight that have next to nothing in them. This stuff isn't rocket science."
Some feared the fortnightly general waste pick up wouldn't be frequent enough for the amount of waste their family generated, while they would struggle to fill the glass bin.
One person said leaving rubbish to be picked up fortnightly would leave a bad smell, especially in summer.
"l don't agree to pay more for less service. And there will be rubbish spread everywhere," they said.
A number of respondents said the current system was overwhelming or too complicated, with four bins too much for single, older residents.
But one person said the current system was "excellent".
"There's a clear push toward more recycling and less waste as shown by the FOGO bins. I think paying more to improve sustainability with things like the purple bins is worthwhile," another said.
Council should invest $3.5 million on the saleyards, according to more than 35 per cent of respondents, while 44 per cent said it was time to sell it off.
"The yards are one of the few income earners for the council and I feel they should be retained," one person said.
"It will bring more than that in economic benefit to Warrnambool spread over time," another said.
"It is only that high because of prior lack of upkeep. It is one thing that is worth spending money on due to the wider community return. Can think of heaps of businesses that benefit from it being there, right down to it providing a public place for truck parking. Get a grant if needed."
At least three participants suggested selling the saleyards and utilising the facilities at Mortlake.
"Bringing cattle/stock into the city is to no ones advantage, especially the cattle," one participant said.
"(It is an) environmental nightmare."
The remaining participants said they didn't know or would need to know how much the saleyard generated annually to make an informed decision.
Some believed council should invest in the facility but questioned the $3.5 million price tag.
"It sounds over the top to me," one respondent said.
"Do upgrades but no need to spend $3.5 mil," another said.
Mrs Kelson said she didn't believe investing in the saleyards was an issue "for the time being".
"It is one of the very few things that council own that is returning money," she said.
"For now it's a good idea to be spending that money there."
Meanwhile, a large proportion (62 per cent) of residents believed council should not invest money into improving Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village.
Some said the tourist site was an important piece of history that needed to be well maintained while others said it was a white elephant.
More than half of respondents also didn't agree with upgrades to Warrnambool Art Gallery.
"The arts are important for cultural and educational reasons but attract minimal attendance," one person said. "Money may be better spent on other projects which have higher usage rates."
"This is something that could be done in the future. Given the budget situation to even consider such a major project is a huge mistake," another said.
A number of those who agreed with the upgrades believed it was not a priority item.
One person said the gallery should be handled by the tourism and economic development arm of council, not community services.
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Common themes mentioned in the responses included the need for upgrades to the breakwater, harbour and boat ramp, roads, infrastructure, parking and council integrity.
Of those who responded, 60 per cent didn't support a move to an hour of free parking if it meant some would pay extra for parking.
Many said the one free hour was confusing, that it should be extended to 90 minutes or that parking should be free at all times of the day on Liebig Street.
Mr Kelson said raising the cost of parking in the CBD was "just ridiculous".
"All they are doing is sending people to the shopping centres and the businesses in town are really going to suffer from it," she said.
"And the offer of one hour is not enough, you need at least two hours. Parking going up on top of the proposed rate increase are the main issues that we see are really bad."
Warrnambool City Council has encouraged the community to provide feedback at yoursaywarrnambool.com.au.
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