The cost of paying Wollongong council’s workers went down for the first time in three years, but remains above $100 million, according to new financial statements.
Wollongong City Council’s draft financial statements also show ratepayers kicked in an extra $10 million to the city’s over budget in the last year, paying $184.5 million towards rates and charges.
Employee benefits dropped by just over $400,000 to $103.1 million, which is the first time they have decreased at all since 2013/14.
However, despite the small drop, the staff costs are more than $10 million up from five years ago, and about $25 million more than in 2007.
Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said staffing costs had been a challenge for the council as it has wrestled to get its finances in good shape over the past five years.
“We’ve looked at more efficient ways of utilising our staff resources, and looked at better ways we can deploy our staff and make better use of the time that’s available,” he said.
“It’s important to note that sometimes you can cut back on costs and become inefficient, so it’s about that balance of being efficient but still being able to put out the goods and services and meet the expectations of the community.”
“I would say we’ve dealt with this in a very responsible way, both in the interests of our employees but also the interests of the community.”
The 2016/17 financial statements are one of the first items which will be considered by the new crop of Wollongong councillors at their first meeting next week.
Cr Bradbery said last year’s operating surplus of $69 million, as well as other measures like a small decrease in the council’s asset depreciation costs, would stand the new councillors in good stead as the begin their term.
“A good result means we can bring over more money to capital works and meet the demands of the community – we can [build] better footpaths, roadways, cycleways, community facilities,” he said.
“These results are a good sign, not only do they show we are replacing our assets that have come to their use-by date, but also bringing down the depreciation costs.”
In the lead up to the recent election, many candidates pledged that they would not allow the council to raise rates above the state cap.
Cr Bradbery said he would push to keep this election promise.
“The city has now dealt with its infrastructure backlog, and the ratepayers of Wollongong have worked hard to bring the financial situation under control,” he said. “There’s no need for any rates rises outside CPI, if at all.”
Also on Monday, councillors will pledge their commitment to the city and elect a deputy mayor.