Newcastle City Council behind on key projects

NEWCASTLE City Council is behind schedule to deliver nine key strategic projects, including Hunter Street revitalisation works and upgrades to Blackbutt Reserve, libraries and swimming pools.

In council budget review documents, general manager Phil Pearce describes the first quarter of the financial year as ‘‘a difficult one for the organisation’’.

The council now predicts it will finish the financial year with an $18.1million net operating deficit. This does not include loan capital or money from financial reserves, which were used to prop up the budget bottom line.

The review also tracks the progress of strategic projects, many of which have not met their targets.

These include the revitalisation of Hunter Street, which has been largely placed on hold while the state government finalises its own urban planning policies and designs for the inner city, and $8.3million worth of upgrades planned at Blackbutt Reserve.

These upgrades have stalled because of ‘‘project management resource issues’’.

An on-street parking strategy is ‘‘on hold’’ after a council decision last month to halt the roll-out of meters to areas like Darby Street.

Library upgrades have not yet started, while the council is searching for a consultant to finalise concept designs for swimming pool works.

On the positive side, the city’s art gallery redevelopment is on track, despite fading hopes of a $7million state government grant to complete the project.

Coastal revitalisation plans, cycleways planning and annual asset maintenance work are all on target.

When loans and reserves used to prop up the council’s operations are added to the balance sheet, the city is predicting a $2.04million deficit this year.

That represents a blowout during the first three months of the year that prompted Mr Pearce to implement a hiring freeze on all non-essential positions and cut casual staff.

Last week the organisation released modelling that showed it would need to find an additional $255million over 10 years in order to meet its financial targets and post modest surpluses.

Proposals floated by Mr Pearce and senior management include cutting about 10per cent from the annual budget, imposing entry fees at the city’s art gallery, museum and Fort Scratchley, and an increase to rates beginning in 2017-18. 

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