Howzat! Cricket wins out in a tight Wodonga Council budget

TEAM WODONGA: Councillors were happy overall with the first budget of their elected term, released on Monday night. Picture: MARK JESSER
TEAM WODONGA: Councillors were happy overall with the first budget of their elected term, released on Monday night. Picture: MARK JESSER

A $1.3 million cricket centre of excellence will be established in Wodonga in the next 12 months – as long as the council receives funding and finds the right location.

Mayor Anna Speedie told The Border Mail the indoor centre would be funded with $500,000 from Cricket Australia and $200,000 from Cricket NSW.

It had originally been planned as part of the Baranduda Fields sporting complex, which failed to win federal government funding.

Cr Speedie said she was confident of finding a new location and the council was committed to the project, which would attract cricket players and their families from all over the region and have a financial benefit of over $1 million per year.

“We want the facility for the players, but we absolutely believe it will be an economic driver,” she said.

The project was part of a proposed $19.5 million capital works program in the draft 2017-18 budget, which also included $6.4 million for the construction of High and South streets and Bond Street in the city centre.

“We are in the final stages of a great transformation of our city and we will continue to deliver the revitalisation of our city centre and landscaping improvements for our CBD,” Cr Speedie said.

Spending was reduced from previous years in an effort to save money in tight financial times, along with $1.2 million in operational savings including less energy use at council buildings.

The council retained a $6.5 million surplus, down on the previous year’s $7.8 million.

Wodonga ratepayers will be charged an extra 2 per cent in rates in the next financial year, in line with the state government cap, but the net increase will be just 0.6 per cent following a $20 cut in waste management fees.

Cr Speedie said it was the lowest rate rise she had seen in her 13 years on the council.

Cr Tim Quilty said it was not enough, proposing the rate rise be cut further to 1.5 per cent, but the idea was defeated 4-3.

“I don’t believe it goes far enough – Wodonga’s had many years of rate rises above the CPI … the ratepayers are sick of it, I think it’s time to slow it down,” he said.

“I think there is a bit of fat in our current spending.

“I can easily find $170,000 in our capital budget – it might mean we slow the rollout of street lighting and park benches and spend a little less on our arts strategy, but I can live with that.”

Cr John Watson defended the 7.5 per cent rate increases of previous years, saying they “made Wodonga what it is today”, but praised 2017-18’s financially responsible budget.

The draft budget was adopted at Monday night’s meeting and will go out at for public comment.