Wollongong's way forward: rate rises, fee hikes

Wollongong City Council’s tough love approach to solving its financial woes is expected to be endorsed by councillors on Monday night, when the revised 2014-15 budget is tabled.

Councillors will likely forge ahead with the ‘‘no pain, no gain’’ budget, which aims to plug a $21 million gap in council finances by increasing rates and selected fees, and making minor cuts to some services.

Plans to hit Wollongong ratepayers with a 20.8 per cent rate rise over the next three years will be given the final go-ahead, after the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) officially approved the council’s application for a special rate variation earlier in June.

Under the changes the average residential rates will rise 20.3 per cent – or $238 – between July this year and 2016-17, while businesses, mines and farms will be slugged 20.8per cent, 20.3 per cent and 18.5 per cent respectively. The increase is expected to generate $29 million for the council.

Aerial photo of Wollongong.

Aerial photo of Wollongong.

During the public exhibition period the council’s draft annual plan attracted 46 submissions on a variety of issues, including requests for more outdoor exercise equipment and better maintenance of Wombarra Pool, to concerns about stormwater management and waste disposal fees.

Fee increases and calls for annual entry passes at Corrimal Pool received 19 submissions, while Keira Cricket Club’s Village Park Pavilion project attracted nine.

The council’s financial sustainability review received seven comments opposing reductions in service and increased rates, and asking  the council  to benchmark the cost of services and infrastructure expenditure against industry standards.

Funding for a traffic study of the Keiraville-Gwynneville area was again denied, despite community pleas and a formal submission.

Since the exhibition period, the capital budget received an additional $710,000 funding for capital works, and the 2014-15 net surplus improved by $10.9 million.

However, the council has foreshadowed a possible blow to its finances after the federal government said it would remove its contribution to the rate subsidy for pensioners.

 This is expected to cost the council about $200,000 a year.

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