Some pain in $5m savings: Councillor
City of Greater Geraldton councillors voted unanimously this week to pass the 2016-17 budget, but not before some members expressed concerns about cuts to community services and programs.
Willcock Ward Councillor Renee Ellis said despite the City showing fiscal responsibility in drafting the budget, which cuts the City deficit by $5.1 million, the cuts to a range of services were disappointing.
“This is not the time of milk and honey as it used to be and it’s sad to see a lot of our programs go including social supports and culture and the arts,” Cr Ellis said.
“This has been a big blow to the City because it’s worked very hard over the years to develop an economy in arts.”
Councillor Graeme Bylund echoed Cr Ellis’ concerns and said he hoped the City would revisit some of the programs and services at a later date after its $78 million spend on infrastructure this financial year.
“I realise things are tough and we’ve had to tighten belts and make changes,” he said.
“I’m hoping with a budget like this that we can progress and spend a bit on infrastructure and get our City back up and running with the view that, in the coming years, we can come back and look at these programs that we’ve lost.”
The City said the deficit reduction, from $7.3 million to $2.2 million, was a result of efficiency and productivity gains including a 20 per cent reduction in staff.
Mayor Shane Van Styn said the City had listened to community concerns after a controversial 7.6 per cent rate rise in 2013.
Under this year’s budget, Mullewa ratepayers on minimum rates will be hit with an increase from $600 to $1010, because of State Government orders to bring rates in line with Geraldton.
Most Geraldton residents will see a rate rise below inflation. Others will see a freeze.
City of Greater Geraldton councillors have voted to maintain the Heritage Advisory Committee despite a recommendation from City officers that it be dissolved.
The 14-0 decision arose after Willcock ward councillor Renee Ellis moved to continue the committee while reducing the frequency of meetings and member numbers.
The committee will now meet twice per calendar year, with a minimum of five members required to attend.
Cr Ellis said she made the motion after receiving feedback from the community, and praised the City’s approach to heritage matters.
“The City has always had a role in leading with heritage and has won awards to that effect,” she said.
“Today we received correspondence from the community requesting that we don’t dissolve the committee.”
The proposal presented to the council to dissolve the HAC listed budget cuts and staff reductions at Geraldton Regional Library as reasons for the recommendation.
The committee was established in 2011 to advise the council on the development and provision of heritage services and facilities.
In response to a question put by the council, City chief executive Ken Diehm said the collection of heritage materials was ongoing.
“We’re continuing to resource local heritage and we’re continuing to take oral histories as well as catalogue, archive, record and store them,” he said.
“We will find a way to resource this if the council resolves to continue the Heritage Advisory Committee.”
The last HAC meeting, scheduled in February, did not have the minimum number of members required.
Port ward Cr Bob Hall said the dissolution of HAC would likely be met with criticism.
“I think if we threw the baby out with the bathwater in this particular program, we’d have our head in our hands with a lot of other people in the community who distinctly have an attachment to the heritage of Geraldton,” he said.