Shellharbour councillor's distress over budget

Shellharbour City Council's 2014-15 budget has been endorsed but not without some councillors speaking out against lack of input into the process.

Shellharbour ratepayers will endure a 9 per cent rate rise next financial year, which will see average rates rise $102 to $1232.

On Tuesday night, councillors voted 4-2 to adopt the budget, with Cr Helen Stewart abstaining.

Cr Stewart said the lack of input from councillors into the budget distressed her "immensely", saying the first time councillors viewed public submissions was when the business papers for Tuesday night's meeting were published.

"The previous council did it a lot better," Cr Stewart said.

"Back then we had pages of information, probably two briefings and we could read submissions well before the council meeting ... I have not seen this council work collectively on this budget."

Cr Peter Moran labelled the budget "totally inappropriate and offensive".

"There is a lot of money being spent on council's pet projects but the nuts and bolts are being ignored," Cr Moran said.

"Councillors were given a 45-minute briefing which came after the budget had been prepared and a week before it went on public exhibition.

"The problem is that we are the ones that cop the flak, we are the ones the community approaches, yet we had no input into it."

Shellharbour council general manager Michael Willis defended the new budget process.

"The budget is the end point of a cumulative process that goes on for a long period of time.

"We take note of all suggestion made through the year, whether it be public submissions, resolutions of council, all sorts of things ... this is the end result of all of that.

"I will not accept that we have not been listening hard to what it is the councillors and public has been saying."

Plans to hand out $48,500 worth of grants to 17 organisations have been deferred by Shellharbour City Council as debate continues over the council’s contribution to the Shellharbour Sports Assistance Fund.

Formed nearly 40 years ago, the SSAF provides financial aid to Shellharbour’s athletes to help them compete at state and national events.

Last year, council staff suggested the group’s annual $10,000 allocation be withheld, given the SSAF’s ‘‘healthy bank balance’’ of $32,000 and because council did not support other residents involved in activities at a state and national level that were not sport focused.

Under the new policy, groups such as the SSAF must apply annually.

The council’s financial assistance working party assessed submissions and proposed the council allocate $6000 to the SSAF, with a further $4000 for the fund’s annual awards dinner.

Cr Helen Stewart, a council representative on the SSAF, said last year an agreement was reached that $10,000 in funding would remain in place for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 financial years.

‘‘I have a clear recollection of what was said...I believe we should honour that agreement,’’ Cr Stewart said.

Mayor Marianne Saliba said by supporting the dinner – which this year cost the SSAF $4000 – the council was still providing $10,000, bearing in mind the SSAF now had $37,000 in the bank according to its most recent financial statement.

‘‘People see it as our event and we are ridiculed...’’

Councillors voted 4-3 to refer the matter back to the council’s financial assistance working party, with Cr Kellie Marsh suggesting the extra money for the SSAF be taken from the proposed sponsorship of the Sunset Cinemas and Sunset Food Markets by the Lake.

Some of the groups proposed to receive support include the RYDA Road Safety Education Program ($4000), Southern Stars ($5000), Albion Park Show ($4000), Illawarra Business Awards ($5000), the Camp Quality Convoy ($3500), the Roller Hawks ($3000), the Relay for Life ($2000) and the Oak Flats Billy Cart Derby ($2500).