$5 entry fee floated for art gallery and museum

FREE entry to Newcastle Art Gallery and Newcastle Museum will end under a new set of fees and charges proposed by Newcastle City Council.

Gallery entry would cost $5 for an adult, $10 for a family and $2 for a child between 12 and 18.

The museum would cost $5 for an adult, $12 for a family and $2 for a child aged four to 15, with a $3 concession.

The proposed fees, if adopted by the council, will end a long-standing policy of free entry.

The gallery fees especially look destined to add even further tension to strained relations between gallery supporters and the council administration.

The gallery and museum fees are among more than 2000 items and services being charged for by the council in a 100-page register to be on display for public comment from Wednesday next week.

The new fees register was part of a bundle of financial documents  endorsed by a majority of councillors in a vote last night.

 A council spokesperson confirmed the new museum and gallery fees but stressed that the public would have 28 days to comment on the changes and the council would then vote on the matter.

More than 40 further charges are listed as ‘‘new’’ in the art gallery section of the fees listings, with hire rates of up to $1450 depending on the number of guests and the day of the week.

The register contains fee proposals from the coming financial year until 2017-18 and most charges appear to rise, although by relatively modest amounts.

At last night’s council meeting, Labor and Greens councillors opposed the idea of the council ‘‘endorsing’’ detailed financial plans before the community had a chance to comment on them, but their concerns were over-ridden by the Liberal and Independent majority led by lord mayor Jeff McCloy.

Debate centred on philosophical arguments about the need for rate rises, and the proposed fee hikes were not mentioned.

On the council’s financial plans for the coming years, Greens councillor Michael Osborne lamented a lack of  options to be put to the community, rather than a single proposal based on a substantial rate increase.

But council general manager Ken Gouldthorp told councillors  they were following ‘‘a process laid down by the Local Government Act ... which doesn’t allow multiple options’’.

Liberal Brad Luke said the imminent period of public display was only the start of the public consultation and the special rate variation included by the council in its budget forecasts  could not be levied without approval from the Independent Regulatory and Pricing Tribunal.

As the Newcastle Herald reported on Saturday, the council wants to lift rates by an average of about 6.6per cent from 2015 to 2020, an increase of more than twice the 3.2per cent the council expects the tribunal to allow under the normal rate-capping regime.

 Cr Luke said he had ‘‘always opposed rate increases’’ but he believed the council had ‘‘made the hard yards’’  to such a degree  so that a rate rise could be supported.

Liberal Lisa Tierney applauded the council’s drive to reduce its deficit, saying that the previous council had ‘‘put the cart before the horse’’ by seeking rate rises before ensuring financial ‘‘sustainability’’. 

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