Wollongong councillors approve hefty rate rise

Three votes against Wollongong council's controversial draft annual plan and proposed rate rise failed to stop it getting the green light at Monday night's meeting.

The council approved a 6.13 per cent rate rise for 2014-15, and endorsed its draft annual budget and revenue and fee policy.

Significant debate swelled around the revised document, with only 10 of the 13 councillors voting to endorse it.

Councillors Greg Petty, Bede Crasnich and Vicki Curran voted against it, citing the need for the council to look at different ways of cutting costs.

Cr Petty called on the council to cap the rate rise at 2.3 per cent, stating the rate hike failed to address core inefficiencies within the council's operations.

He said the council needed to work harder to make savings, suggesting cuts to councillor pay and events.

"The principle is that we are not looking at the small issues," he said. "If we can't get that right, we're never going to look at the bigger issues.

"It's fine for people to say that savings from cutting tea and biscuits after a meeting is not going to save the council; no, it's not, but we need to be prepared to look at the council's enterprise agreement - about 40 per cent of the budget is spent on wages."

Cr Crasnich blamed the council's financial state on his predecessors, labelling the rate rise "an easy way out".

"Councillors from the 90s and 2000s were briefed about these issues when I was in primary school and they ignored it," he said. "It's a joke - they've left this behind and they've made it our problem."

He called on the council to consider leasing out assets such as Beaton Park to private companies and outsourcing jobs.

Cr George Takacs, who supported the plan, said the council could not simply "wave a magic wand" and come up with the money needed to maintain its infrastructure.

"The position we're in is not unique," he said. "There are a lot of councils in NSW that have asked for a special rate variation.

"Only one-third of local government funding comes from rates; other sources like state and federal funding is declining as well.

"It's unfortunate that local government doesn't have the ability to raise all the money it needs to do the job. We've endorsed a rate rise just for this first year - if we actually do find a magic wand and are able to make more savings, maybe we won't have to raise rates in subsequent years but I think we'll almost certainly need to, there's just no hidden savings."

This year's "tough love" budget aims to fill a $21 million hole in the council's finances.