Inner West Independent

Council rejects rate rise, flags savings

Leichhardt Town Hall

Leichhardt Council’s director of corporate services will be tasked with finding millions of dollars in savings after the council unanimously rejected a special rate variation.

A 300-page report from council officers recommended that a rate rise of between 0.7 and 2.06 per cent above the cap go to public exhibition over the summer months.

But Mayor Darcy Byrne skewered the proposal at the outset. He said that without tri-partisan support on council, a long-term rate variation should not go ahead.

The Greens had previously indicated it would vote against public exhibition. Now the decision to reject the officers’ recommendation has sparked a political row over who can take credit.

Greens councillor Daniel Kogoy said his party had always been opposed to a rise.

“The community must be congratulated for a successful campaign to overturn Labor and Liberal Party plans for an excessive rates rise,” he said.

Mr Byrne accused his opponents of hypocrisy, noting that all Greens councillors voted in favour of the initial community consultation around a rate variation.

“To vote for something and then criticise the other parties who voted for it with you [is] pretty amateur and dishonest,” he said.

Council Liberals joined the fray, with John Jobling declaring that his party would have also moved a motion to reject the officers’ report. But two weeks ago Mr Jobling told this newspaper he would “probably” support the plan going on public exhibition.

Attention will now turn to the efficiency measures required to ameliorate a widening infrastructure gap. Mr Bryne said he did not yet know where they would come from.

“The director of corporate services is responsible for the budget. He will now be directed to review all of our procurement and major projects, and provide recommendations about what savings can be found.”

One area frequently cited in community consultation was Leichhardt Council’s staffing budget. Approximately 49 per cent of total outlays are spent on staff, figures show.

But Mr Byrne said targeting the payroll was not a panacea. “It is true that other councils spend less on full time employed staff. They do that by contracting out – the privatisation of services,” he said.

Mr Bryne said evidence shows staff are “competitive” and “in some cases more cost effective”. As part of the rate rise consultation, a private contractor cost council $40,000. The time and opportunity costs of council officers could not be calculated, he said, because it was part of their “day-to-day work tasks”.

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