Wollongong council to vote on rate hikes

Wollongong rates will rise more than 21per cent over the next three years if councillors support a budget recommendation put forward by council staff.

The latest step in Wollongong City Council’s controversial financial sustainability review will be debated on Monday night, following more than two months of community consultation in which nearly 800 residents shared their views.

Along with a rate rise, the staff proposal includes $1.5million in service cuts – most of which would come from a $1million saving by extending the life of existing footpaths.

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There would also be a minimum $500,000 worth of fee increases, which could include parking fee rises, increases to fitness trainer fees and price rises at some of the council’s pools.

Additionally, $4million would be made in ‘‘efficiencies’’ within the council, which could include outsourcing some services and changes to staffing arrangements. 

The recommendation is a hybrid of the three scenarios, which were placed on public exhibition late last year.

Under the plan to raise rates, residents and most commercial property owners would pay 6.76per cent more each year until 2017 – a cumulative rise of 21.68per cent.

This would mean an average rate rise of $254 across the city.

Stanwell Park residents would pay an average of $585 extra after three years, while West Wollongong residents would pay $243 and Dapto residents would pay an average of $216.

City centre businesses and heavy industry businesses near Port Kembla would be exempt from the special rate hike, paying only the statewide increase of about 3per cent each year.

Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery yesterday said he was generally supportive of the recommendation as it reflected community feedback, but stressed the final decision would be made by all councillors at Monday’s meeting.

‘‘The feedback we got from the community is that user-pays principles should be employed, but we’ve got to be careful in that respect because there are pockets of disadvantage in our city,’’ he said.

‘‘About 78per cent [of respondents] went for a rate rise...[and] ultimately most people were saying we are prepared to pay a little bit more to save our services and maintain those things we treasure.’’

Of the 800 people who voiced their opinion about the budget scenarios, 178 residents supported a ‘‘minimal’’ rate rise saying rates were high enough, while 184 people supported a ‘‘moderate’’ rate rise.

About 80 people indicated they would prefer the highest suggested rise over any cuts to services and 70 did not support any increase.

Like in previous community consultation rounds, many respondents expressed concerns about proposed cuts to rock pools, Unanderra Library and the Lakeside Leisure Centre.

Cr Bradbery said these concerns would be noted as councillors mapped out details regarding service cuts during the council’s annual budget process, which will be finalised by the end of June.

However, he could not rule out service reductions to rock pools and libraries in the future, saying the council would need to investigate its overall strategy for delivering these services in the coming years.

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