Wollongong council budget draws back from cuts

Wollongong City Council has withheld the axe and opted for a more balanced approach to securing the city's financial future, according to the 2014-15 draft annual plan released on Tuesday.

Fears of widespread cuts to council services have been eased - for the time being at least - after the council announced no services would be cut in a bid to plug a multimillion-dollar hole in council finances.

But in line with the "no pain, no gain" budgets ratepayers can expect in coming years, general manager David Farmer confirmed some services would undergo "minor shaving" as the council worked to get its finances in order.

"We've come up with a combination of a rate increase, a reduction in costs by increasing efficiency, some minor shaving of services and [potentially] some user-pays increase to fees and charges to bridge that $21 million [revenue gap]," Mr Farmer said.

"We've got a number of areas that we're looking at potential changes in and we will be working with the council and the community over the year for recommendations."

The services in the council's cross-hairs include Unanderra library and the city's pools, which could face cuts to their operating hours.

The future of the cremator at Berkeley, as well as operations at the Lakeside Leisure Centre and council-run tourist parks will be subject to "further investigation and consultation".

The much-anticipated report comes off the back of the controversial Financial Sustainability Review, which the council launched last year in a bid to find money to prop up the city's ailing infrastructure.

During that time, many community groups vocally opposed any rate or fee hikes and cuts to council services.

The council has sought approval from the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) for an average 6.23 per cent annual rate increase over the next three years.

If the tribunal approves the application, the average ratepayer will pay $77 on top of their average $1175 annual bill.

The draft annual plan has earmarked $83 million for capital works in the coming financial year, which will potentially grow to nearly $100 million by 2016-17.

While the bulk of the money is earmarked for maintaining roads, footpaths and old buildings, the council plans to direct $13 million into improving the city's stormwater systems, in light of recent flood events.

Other big-ticket items include $37 million to improve access to West Dapto and $14 million dedicated to waste facilities.

The council plans to take a number of measures to meet revenue targets, including installing additional metered parking and increasing fees for heated swimming pools, professional trainers and the use of sporting fields.

The city's cyclists have had a win with $17.8 million being directed into the city's cycleways and shared paths over the next three years.

Ratepayers have also had a small win with waste disposal fees, which will increase a modest 2.8 per cent annually - 0.3 per cent less than the CPI.

Councillors will vote to decide whether to put the draft plan on public exhibition at a council meeting on Monday.

The exhibition period, from April 30 until May 28, will give residents the chance to make submissions before the annual plan is finalised in June.

PLANNED COUNCIL PROJECTS FOR 2014-15

Cordeaux Road and shared path components 

Crown Street Mall 

Grand Pacific Walk 

West Dapto Access: Fowlers Road to Fairwater Dr and other projects

Mount Keira Road stabilisation works 

Keira Street, Wollongong precinct upgrade 

Thirroul Beach kiosk and pavilion refurbishment 

Stanwell Park Beach kiosk refurbishment 

Planning for Warrawong Community Centre 

Berkeley Community Centre renewal 

Corrimal Community Centre renewal 

Bald Hill Reserve upgrade 

Berkeley skate park construction 

Pain and gain with numbers: Bradbery

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