POLL: Wollongong councillors show support for hefty rate rise

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A hefty rate rise appears inevitable for Wollongong residents, with several councillors supporting hikes of between 16 and 25 per cent over three years.

In four budget scenarios put forward by Wollongong City Council staff this week, three include a rate rise as well as some variation to services and efficiency measures.

The fourth has no increase above the statewide rate peg, however staff recommended this not be considered further because it would cause too much pain in service cuts and require the council to shed 20 per cent of its employees.

The Mercury spoke to six councillors about the plans on Wednesday, with all but one saying they would support a rate rise.

The lone voice against any rise was Liberal councillor Bede Crasnich, who said he thought an extra $21 million a year should be found through service cuts, asset privatisation, outsourcing and changes to the council’s industrial agreements.

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‘‘I want all four options out there for the community to see, and I’m in favour of option four – which is $14 million in service cuts and $7 million in efficiencies,’’ Cr Crasnich said.

‘‘And I’m of the opinion there are more efficiencies we could make like ... leasing assets or having subcontractors instead of hiring people ourselves.’’

Cr Crasnich’s fellow Liberal representative Leigh Colacino was more cautious, saying he was ‘‘thinking about’’  putting all four scenarios on exhibition and that nothing was off the table.

‘‘I don’t want a rate rise – I already pay an incredible amount [in rates] now – but if that’s what is needed to help Wollongong secure a better financial position for the future I would be willing to do it,’’ Cr Colacino said.

Likewise, Cr Michelle Blicavs said she thought the council’s fourth scenario would be too hard, and that she was personally willing to pay a little more in rates.

Deputy Lord Mayor and Labor councillor Chris Connor on Wednesday reiterated comments he made at a union rally three weeks ago, ruling out the fourth and first options because of deep cuts to services and threats to council jobs.

Cr Connor said he did not speak for all Labor councillors, but said he hoped to see some variation of options two and three being considered by councillors next February.

‘‘The submissions the public have given us have overwhelmingly said not to cut services, and for us Labor councillors it’s really important not to see job losses,’’ he said.

‘‘No matter which way you go, I believe there is a need for some sort of a rate rise.’’

The Greens’ Jill Merrin said she supported increased rates, but would like to see ‘‘tweaking’’ to all options to ‘‘minimise pain’’ for residents.

‘‘Philosophically, I’m in favour of services for all people because it’s a way of redistributing wealth to those in need, and that comes with a certain amount of taxes – or in this case rates,’’ she said.

‘‘These scenarios show from one extreme to the other, and that gives us an idea about the possibilities so we can get our heads around what is most important to keep and what we can give away.’’

On Tuesday, Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery told the Mercury he was ‘‘heading in the direction’’ of scenario three,  which has almost no service cuts but the largest rate rise.

 However, he was not prepared to commit to any particular option before community consultation on the options the council takes before the public.

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