Three years of pain: rates and fees up, services cut

Wollongong residents could be hit with a rate rise of more than 25 per cent over the next three years, under one of four budget scenarios  council staff disclosed yesterday.

In the latest step in Wollongong City Council’s deeply unpopular financial sustainability review, staff have developed four proposed combinations of service cuts, efficiencies and rate rises to help the organisation free up an extra $21 million a year.

Councillors will be asked which options to put on public exhibition at  Monday’s meeting, with staff recommending just three of the four be presented.

Residents object to slicing services

Group opposing cuts plans rally

They said the fourth scenario – in which there is no rate rise above inflation – should not be considered.

In addition to rock pool and crematorium closures, parking fee hikes and outsourcing of council jobs suggested by the controversial citizens panel, staff said a budget without a rate rise would require much deeper service and job cuts to save $14 million a year.

Measures would include the sale of 20 per cent of playgrounds and parks, the closure of Berkeley and Dapto pools, and an end to many cultural programs. Additionally, the council would need to shed more than 20 per cent of its staff, the report said.

The other three options include rate increases of between 16 and 25 per cent over three years, with proposed service reductions and efficiency measures decreasing as rates go up.

Despite the citizens panel being downplayed by the council as ‘‘just a conversation starter’’, it has a prominent role in the staff report, with all panel recommendations adopted under the first scenario.

The second scenario features higher rates than the panel proposed, but only half the service cuts and a much lower rise in fees and charges.

In the third scenario, residents would pay an extra $16.5 million to the council through a rate rise but there would only be $1million in service cuts.

At the launch of the report, Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery admitted he was in a lose-lose situation no matter which option was eventually adopted.

‘‘I haven’t got a hope of winning here, I will make that very clear, but this council has to be responsible,’’ he said.

‘‘I don’t want us living in McMansions and having lousy roads and I don’t want us being able to drive

 ... wonderful cars around our city but to be falling down potholes.

‘‘Either we find some money from somewhere by cutting it ... and making efficiencies or we have a rate increase.’’

Once councillors vote which scenarios should go on public exhibition, residents can have their say on each option from December 11 to February 5.

Cr Bradbery said councillors would then be forced to decide which scenario was ‘‘most acceptable’’, because the council needed to notify the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) of its rate rise plans by February 24.

‘‘These scenarios represent broad brushstrokes, but we have to settle on one approximately because that’s how we will flag to IPART where we’re going,’’ he said.

‘‘There might be space for some tweaking, but these are the broad categories we will have to vote upon and we have to come to a decision [about rates] by the end of February.’’

Further decisions about service cuts and efficiency measures will be made during the council’s yearly planning process, which has to be finalised by June 23.

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