Control of Lake budget urged

 LAKE Macquarie councillors must take control of the city’s budget and not leave it to council staff to decide where money gets spent, Councillor Barry Johnston says.

‘‘It is our budget,’’  he said after a council meeting last night.

Cr Johnston said elected councillors must set the strategic direction of the budget. 

‘‘We need to get involved in the back rooms of council,’’ he said.

The council had budgeted for a residential rate rise of 70per cent and a business rate rise of 90per cent over seven years.

But the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal ruled in June that the council could raise residential rates by 55per cent and business rates by 71per cent over seven years.

Councillor Daniel Wallace said that meant there would have to be cuts in some areas to provide services in other areas.

 He said councillors ‘‘can have as much control over the budget as they want, but it’s no use if they don’t have the skills’’.

He  called for councillors to be offered a financial skills course before March, when the  budget agenda would be set.

Council general manager Brian Bell said  the council was keen to offer financial training. 

Cr Wallace said with ‘‘sound advice from council staff, hopefully we can work on reducing the deficits by 2017’’.

The Herald reported last Friday that the council planned to run budget deficits until 2016-17.

Cr Wallace said the  community had told the council  it did not want  cuts to be made.

‘‘We could bring the budget back into surplus but once libraries close and pools are filled in, the cost of bringing back that sort of capital investment is too huge,’’ he said.

Stinky nappies set to stew for fortnight

LAKE Macquarie councillors voted last night for nappies and other disposable hygiene products to sit in bins for a fortnight from 2015-16.

Councillor Daniel Wallace said the decision was partly aimed at putting pressure on the state government to change the law to allow nappies and hygiene products to be composted.

The Newcastle Herald reported yesterday that council staff’s ‘‘preferred solution’’ was to collect nappies and other hygiene products fortnightly in the general waste bin in 2015-16. At that time, the council’s general waste bin will be collected fortnightly because a new third bin will take organic waste.

Councillor Barry Johnston moved that councillors defer a decision on the matter until shortly before 2015-16 but his plan was not supported.

‘‘I can see it being an issue in hot weather, with odour and maggots forming,’’ he said.

‘‘I don’t believe we needed to make this decision tonight.’’

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