THE City of Greater Geelong council’s next budget will aim to not only start an “unprecedented” asset renewal program but also chart a path to getting back into the black.
At their meeting on Tuesday this week, councillors resolved to release the draft 2021/22 budget for public comment.
The proposed budget commits $379 million over the next two years for the largest program of capital works in the city’s history but also a further $687 million over four years towards community facilities such as shared trails, aquatic and sporting facilities, community centres and public open space.
Speaking at a media briefing on Tuesday morning, finance portfolio chair Cr Anthony Aitken said there was a “massive amount of ageing infrastructure” across the Geelong region and the council had traditionally funded only 50 per cent of the renewal gap, but the plan was to move to 60 per cent.
Renewal projects include $6 million to replace the 50-metre pool at Leisurelink, $6 million over four years for Landy Field, and $1 million over four years for upgrades at the Anakie Football and Netball Club.
“We have accepted the challenge that we’re not spending enough on asset renewal, and there hasn’t been a focus on respecting ageing infrastructure that we have within Geelong, and this council’s recognised that,” Cr Aitken said.
Some of the biggest-spending items in the budget include $54.2 million (a quarter of the more than $200 million in new and carried-over capital works in 2021-22) towards the city’s new Civic Precinct, $28.6 million for land acquisition in Armstrong Creek, $5.3 million for LED street lighting and smart controls, $3.12 million towards the Drysdale Library, and $2.85 million towards the pavilion in Bell Park’s Hume Reserve.
The council says this budget aims to spread spending across Geelong.
“The councillors are incredibly involved in the line-by-line items, and the process whereby we decide where the money gets spent is very fair across all four wards, and that’s something that we really have put in a lot of work in making that more accessible for the councillors,” Geelong mayor Stephanie Asher said.
The city’s underlying result is a forecast deficit of $19.7 million in 2020-21 and a deficit of $7.9 million in 2021-22, but the city is projecting a $4.6 million surplus in 2022-23 and is “committed to maintaining operating surpluses in future years”.
Rates across the municipality will increase by an average of 1.5 per cent, the new maximum allowed under the Victorian Government’s rate capping regime.
Cr Anthony Aitken said the 1.5 per cent cap was a “significant restraint” on preparing the budget but the council supported it.
“Councils are given an opportunity to challenge that but we believe our community, both residential and commercial ratepayers, would believe that we should be operating in a constrained environment, as they are as while recovering from COVID.”
Many fees and charges have been frozen at pre-pandemic levels, including Swim, Sport and Leisure Centres, golf and community hall hire.
The council’s draft Our Community Plan 2021-25 was also released for public comment on Tuesday this week.
It sets four strategic directions:
- Healthy, caring and inclusive community
- Sustainable growth and environment
- Strong local economy, and
- High-performing council and organisation.
Cr Asher said the four-year plan was developed in tandem with the budget and in close consultation with the community.
“We’re really interested in making sure we’re listening to the community and that we are responding to what they’re asking us for.”
To read the draft 2021-22 Budget and Our Community Plan and make a submission, head to yoursay.geelongaustralia.com.au before May 25.