Brutal budget for Wollongong

The forecast
The forecast
General manager David Farmer wants Wollongong City Council back in the black by 2012.

General manager David Farmer wants Wollongong City Council back in the black by 2012.

Wollongong residents have been warned to expect service cuts, council job losses, new fees and charges and extensive delays to all major projects as part of a new five-year plan revealed by general manager David Farmer yesterday.

If endorsed by administrators on Wednesday, the five-year budget plan will be put on exhibition and will come into effect mid-year.

The slash-and-burn budget outlines major cost savings and comes on top of a 2008-09 rate rise of 5.7 per cent, or a $50 increase for the average bill.

This year, the council is aiming to reduce its projected deficit of $15 million to $4.4 million.

By 2013, Mr Farmer hopes to see a surplus of $2.4 million.

The community will feel the pain as the plan is executed.

Mr Farmer did not rule out further rate hikes above those pegged by the State Government, but said at this stage they were not being factored into the plan.

Instead Mr Farmer wants to introduce fees for paying rates by credit card, increased caravan park charges, cuts to child care, community groups and internal staff programs, scaled-back environmental programs, cancellation of leases to community groups, sale of public land, sponsorship cuts and reduced New Year's Eve funding.

Mr Farmer said this was only part of the solution.

In an effort to shave $61 million from capital works, projects including the West Dapto transport link, Blue Mile proposal, Southern Gateway project, Thirroul Community Centre, Crown St Mall refurbishments and others had all been reviewed and had their completion dates pushed back.

In some cases they had been delayed indefinitely.

"This (budget) represents the level to which the projects can be funded from estimated (developer) contributions and grants (together with) general revenue," the report says.

In a frank assessment the administrators, in their preface to the budget papers, have described the parlous state of the council's finances.

In effect they have distanced themselves from policies adopted by the sacked council and signalled their determination to put in place new measures aimed at turning finances around.

"To immediately do all of those things previously planned would worsen the overall financial deficit already confronting us. It would require the council to incur further debt by raising substantial loans that would inevitably be a burden to all ratepayers," administrators Robert McGregor, Gabrielle Kibble and Col Gellatly said in a joint statement.

"This draft plan concentrates on maintaining and improving the core services that are delivered by council to its community."

Mr Farmer's aim is to make the council debt-free by 2011, when Wollongong is due to elect a new group of councillors.

"Ultimately, we can only do what we can afford," Mr Farmer said yesterday.

He said he had been bombarded with letters from ratepayers complaining about crumbling roads, parks and other infrastructure, and believed this was where the council's money was best spent.

"I get more letters about deteriorating infrastructure ... than I get about any other matter."