Budget decisions divisive

A DIVIDED Shellharbour City Council has handed residents an increase to rates and waste service charges after voting 4-3 to pass the Operational Plan 2014-15 at its meeting last Tuesday.

In front of a packed public gallery, Mayor Marianne Saliba and councillors John Murray, Paul Rankin and David Boyle supported the plan, while Crs Kellie Marsh and Peter Moran voted against it.

Cr Helen Stewart abstained from the vote, which counted as a vote against.

Under the adopted plan, residents will be hit with an average rate rise of $102, under the second year of the Special Rate Variation (SRV). Waste collection charges will also rise, with the per-service annual charge for a 240-litre bin jumping from $360 to $412 and the charge for a 140-litre bin going from $251 to $283.

Fees and charges for all sports fields and pools will also increase.

The council applied for the SRV to help it deal with a backlog of infrastructure renewal projects and more than $18 million has been directed to renewal projects for the next financial year.

The region's roads will receive more than $4 million, more than $10 million will be used on buildings and another $3.6 million will go towards plant and other assets.

There is also more than $20 million for new assets, but the majority, more than $18 million, is ear-marked for the City Hub Project, while drainage projects receive $600,000 and $881,800 goes to new recreational assets.

Cr Saliba said the budget was economically sound.

"There are always competing needs coming from all quarters of our community and I know we can't please everybody, we never can.

"However, we have to make sound economic decisions that are going to have the best benefit in our community."

Cr Boyle said the budget was needed to see the council through some tough times.

"It's tough and we're all going to go through it . . . I think it's a responsible budget, and if we're going to grow as a city there's some things in there we need to do."

In speaking against the plan, Cr Marsh said the budget would hurt a number of residents.

"For a lot of people when this hammer comes down tonight on this budget, this is going to fall quite hard for a lot of people in this city."

Cr Moran went further in his criticism of the document, describing it as "inappropriate and offensive."

"There are many ways in which I find this budget totally inappropriate and even offensive really to the residents in this city.

"We're spending a lot of money on what has been called pet projects, and yet the nuts and bolts that actually keep this city going, that make it a livable place are ignored."

In abstaining from the vote, Cr Stewart criticised the fact that councillors seemingly had little input into forming the document.

"What distresses me immensely is the lack of input from fellow councillors," she said.

"I'm not comparing councils, but I think the previous council did it a lot better, we had pages and pages of information, we had briefings, not one, we probably had two.

"You could read the submissions well before a council meeting, if you had any questions you needed answering you could put it to the staff who would give us the answers."

General manger Michael Willis said forming the budget was an extensive project that took into account public submissions and resolutions of council throughout the year.

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