Panel process ‘undemocratic’: councillors

The citizens’ panel has usurped the role of Wollongong City councillors, according to Bede Crasnich.

‘‘I just found this whole process very undemocratic, from our point of view,’’ the Ward 3 councillor said.

‘‘We’ve been deprived of our rights as councillors to pass policy. 

‘‘We were elected in September of 2011 to make decisions for this city, for better or worse. We’re entitled to do that, it’s our role to do that.’’

Calling a 7.5 per cent rate rise ‘‘ludicrous and ridiculous’’, Cr Crasnich said he would not be voting in favour of it.

‘‘I’m going to push what the people who voted for me want,’’ he said.

‘‘Many of those feel they’re paying enough in rates, maybe even too much. So I won’t be supporting a rate rise, no matter what the panel says.’’

But as for the cuts to services, Cr Crasnich said he was ‘‘all for a service reduction’’ but only without an increase in rates.

Cr Greg Petty said he also would not vote for the rate rise.

‘‘I think council needs  to look further afield than taking the easy option of a rate increase,’’ Cr Petty said.

‘‘It needs to look at the way it does business. It shouldn’t be relying on ratepayers to pick up many years of financial neglect.’’

He suggested a better approach was to stop spending money on new projects and transfer those funds to infrastructure renewal.

Cr Petty said he would table an alternate budget at the next council meeting, one without a rate rise.

Cr George Takacs felt many of the measures recommended by the citizens’ panel  were necessary and said the councillors needed to treat the suggestions seriously.

‘‘I think the process that we had in place should have delivered us what you might regard as the carefully considered opinion of the silent majority of people if they’re presented with all the facts,’’ he said.

‘‘I think because of that we need to take the recommendations of the panel quite seriously and any that we choose not to implement, we need to come up with good reasons for not implementing them.’’

Cr Takacs said there was a sound reason for both cutting services and raising rates.

‘‘The magnitude of the problem in terms of shifting the appropriate amount of resources into asset maintenance is such that we can’t do it with just one measure or the other,’’ he said.

‘‘If we tried to do it with just a rate rise it would be a massive rate rise which the residents wouldn’t accept.

‘‘If we tried to do it just with service cuts, again, it would be a massive cut to services and people wouldn’t accept it. So I think it’s got to be a combination of the two.’’

The community group Save Our Services Wollongong has been opposed to the citizens panel since it was announced.

Convener Stephen Spencer said he wasn’t surprised by the recommendations to cut services, believing the process was directed by the council.

‘‘They certainly wouldn’t have been prompted to build up services,’’ he said.

‘‘The whole thrust of the whole exercise was that council was looking at financial difficulties and it was clear there was going to be cuts.

‘‘We believe council has really divested itself of the responsibility in trying to get this citizens’ panel to come up with recommendations that they portray as the community’s viewpoint when it’s not.’’

Wollongong City Council chambers.

Wollongong City Council chambers.