Late bid to block Wollongong rates hike

A residents group will call on the state’s pricing regulator to reject Wollongong City Council’s bid for a special rate hike, arguing the city had allowed cost blow-outs and shouldn’t be handed a fatter public purse. 

The council voted on Monday in favour of a 21 per cent rate rise over three years, or 6.63 per cent annually, and will now seek approval from the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal to introduce the hikes.

But the Save our Services Wollongong group will also make a submission to IPART, citing the cost of the Crown Street Mall refurbishment, and a new toilet block built at Towradgi for $765,000, as examples of the council’s inability to contain costs. 

Save Our Services Wollongong convener Stephen Spencer said rate rises should be put on hold.

‘‘We believe there shouldn’t be a rate rise until council has thoroughly had its finances examined and addressed its cost containment,’’ Mr Spencer said.

‘‘A vivid example of that is Wollongong mall [refurbishment]. When initiated, council said it was $10 million, now it’s costing $20 million.

‘‘There are numerous people in the community questioning why it costs so much.

‘‘The issues there should be effectively addressed before council says ‘give us some more money and trust us to spend it wisely’.’’

The Save our Services group will also cite in its submission a lack of community consultation over the rate rises, which, together with $1.5 million in service cuts, $500,000 in increased fees and $4.5 million in council ‘‘efficiencies’’ are aimed at plugging some of the city’s asset renewal funding gap.

The group maintains council’s citizens panel, which developed a controversial hit-list aimed at cutting costs, was an ineffective gauge of community sentiment towards services and facilities.

‘‘We’ll be emphasising the lack of real engagement with the community, highlighting such things as the citizens panel, which I think most people in the community regard as a sick joke,’’ Mr Spencer said. 

‘‘I’m not suggesting there should be hundreds of meetings, but there should certainly be more than four meetings with a specific group – a hand-picked group.’’ 

Responding to Mr Spencer’s comments, a council spokesman said more than 5300 community members, businesses, and representative bodies had contributed to the Securing our Future review, which addresses the funding gap. This included more than 800 submissions since December, the spokesman said. 

‘‘This consultation and engagement was reported to Council, who resolved to lodge an application for a Special Rate Variation with IPART,’’ the spokesman said. 

The spokesman would not comment on the submission being put forward by the Save our Services group.

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