Wodonga councillors put forward targets for spending cuts to meet shortfall created by waste levy changes

Cuts on the table: Councillors Danny Lowe and Ron Mildren outlined possible reductions to council spending to address a shortfall due to changes in the application of Wodonga's waste management fee.
Cuts on the table: Councillors Danny Lowe and Ron Mildren outlined possible reductions to council spending to address a shortfall due to changes in the application of Wodonga's waste management fee.

WODONGA’S city councillors have warned of cuts to services, including mowing of parks, in the wake of the waste management fee woes.

But mayor Anna Speedie has cautioned against cutting and burning.

The debate over tackling the fallout from reduced income from the garbage levy came as councillors on Monday night voted 6-1 in favour of a draft budget with a 2.25 per cent rate rise.

The increase matches the cap imposed on council rates for 2018-19 by the Victorian government.

Before the state Ombudsman last month deemed the council had been improperly applying its waste fee, the council had been looking to have a 2 per cent rate increase.

The Ombudsman’s recommendation to cut the charge and bring it into line with rates has seen it fall by 4.8 per cent for 2018-19.

That means there will be a $12.20 reduction to $241, meaning when the fee and rate increase are combined there has been an overall rise of 1.5 per cent for the average ratepayer.

But there was criticism from some councillors that the city was not taking immediate action on the mechanics of the waste levy.

“Most disappointing of all is that the overcharging of the waste management levy will continue this year, despite the Ombudsman, the Premier, the Treasurer and the Minister for Local Government declaring it is wrong,” Cr Ron Mildren said.

“I think we can cut the surplus out now and undertake a service review over the next 12 months over all of council with a view to identifying cost reduction.”

Cr Libby Hall, the only councillor to vote against the draft budget, said dealing in full with the waste levy impact was “achievable” in the 2018-19 budget and she was upset it had not occurred.

She said the failure to tackle it now, meant the council may go beyond the rate cap in 2019-20 or introduce a municipal charge.

“The council, in not addressing the waste management levy amount in this budget with some vigour...(means) it is basically supporting...the status quo in overcharging of the ratepayer,” Cr Hall said.

Cr Tim Quilty said he had proposals which could cut $1.75 million in lieu of reduced waste fee revenue.

He would halve tree plantings, reduce new footpaths, axe a business incubator program and lop arts and communication spending.

Cr Danny Lowe nominated the mowing of fields and spring-summer entertainment program Friday’s on my Mind as areas which may be curtailed due to budget belt-tightening.

But Cr Speedie stressed that there were risks in taking the razor to provisions.

“Having a look at costs and services isn’t just willy-nilly, these services provide essential support,” Cr Speedie said.

“To think that we can just cut and burn, in my opinion, is not only foolish but irresponsible.” 

In doubt: Friday's on my Mind, which is staged in spring and summer, has been nominated as a potential victim of budget cuts.

In doubt: Friday's on my Mind, which is staged in spring and summer, has been nominated as a potential victim of budget cuts.

Cr Speedie noted there had been $20 million in efficiency gains over the past five years at the council.

In talking up the budget, the mayor said the average rate increase would equate to 69 cents a week and there were no new borrowings and further debt reduction.

Major spending, some aided by grants, include $5.3 million on High Street, $4.9 million on a gas link to Logic, $2.1 million on Richardson Park and $500,000 on refurbishing council offices.

“Unlike our state and federal counterparts we do take our budget out for comments to our community and we work with our community,” Cr Speedie said.

“I encourage people to provide us with that feedback and input.”

The final budget is due to be adopted at a council meeting on June 25.