Wollongong City Council could end up helping pay some of the Gong Shuttle running costs to keep it free – with both Labor and Liberal councillors putting forward plans.
At the next council meeting on December 11, Labor councillors have said they will move a motion to pay part of the shortfall caused by the government’s 25 per cent reduction in funding.
However, Liberal councillor Cameron Walters said the Labor motion was yet to appear, while he had one of his own calling for an investigation into funding the shuttle.
“I’m not saying they’re trying to steal my thunder,” Cr Walters said.
“I just welcome them in their support of the motion. I welcome them in trying to find way to fund the 25 per cent shortfall.
“This was always about saving the shuttle, it was never a stunt.”
Deputy Lord Mayor David Brown said Labor’s motion called for the council to spend $350,000 a year to fund part of the shortfall.
He said the motion had yet to be written but would find its way to the floor for debate at the last council meeting of the year.
If the motion is passed in a week’s time, it would still leave a funding shortfall, which another group would need to step in to fill.
“Clearly the university is the other probable player,” Cr Brown said.
“My understanding is they’ve discussed it but they haven’t made a formal statement yet. So we’re just saying, we’ll start the ball rolling.
“It’s in their hands, they’re a bigger organisation than we are. They’ll make their own decision in their own time.”
Cr Brown said other funding options could come from the health and education systems, given the Gong Shuttle services both the city’s medical precinct as well as the high schools and TAFEs.
The council had previously taken the stance that the government should fully fund the shuttle – which is still Cr Brown's position.
“I think what if anything has changed is we’ve spent a month or so lobbying now and the state government had dug its heels in and will not move at all,” he said.
“So for the greater good we’ve just got to do it.”
The $350,000 a year would not be taken from an existing project but from council’s reserves.
“It comes at the opportunity cost of using that money elsewhere,” he said.
“We’ve got reserves so we can cover this but it’s going to be a tough look at the budget between now and then, when the next budget comes.
"It will be tough to rearrange our priorities but it’s one thing we think is just too valuable to lose.”
The Labor motion will pass with the support of just one other councillor.
“If there’s anyone who suggests we shouldn’t go down this path I don’t know yet,” he said.
“The way that the city of Wollongong has so strongly come in behind supporting the free bus I’d be surprised if there was any pushback against this move.”