This week, I am taking this opportunity to dispel a few myths and provide some facts on Council’s expenditure and use of income received from the parking revenues.
There is no doubt that Council’s projects and programs are significant for our local economy. With over $1.2 billion of community assets in our care, an annual operating budget of just over $100 million and a capital works program of around $40 million this year, Council’s local buy policy is a positive contributor.
As the Lord Mayor, the presiding member of the Council, I am well aware of the need to keep rates as low as possible while meeting our statutory obligation to deliver a balanced budget.
In coming into office Council’s original long-term financial plan budgeted for an annual increase in rates by 4.5%. I am proud to say that this Council has delivered below this figure at only 4%, 3% and 2.75% in recent years.
One of the ways we have been able to achieve this outcome has been by utilising some of our car parking revenue to offset our annual operating expenses. Parking revenue is used by councils nationally and internationally for this very purpose.
This year, in response to the community demand, we have invested a further $300,000 of the car parking revenue to increase the cleaning regime in the CBD and local regional shopping centres. Council also placed an additional $100,000 per annum into our long- term financial plan to activate and revitalise our CBD. Council also assisted the Darwin City and Waterfront Retailers Association with a $50,000 grant to support its activities. Council recently held events such as the Pop up Mindil Markets in The Mall, Fair in the Square and last year Christmas in the City all aimed to activate our City Centre.
At the same time Council continues to invest in our local suburbs. Projects delivered include:
• refurbishment of the Nightcliff Pool and major repairs at the Casuarina pool
• significant investment on coastal erosion measures at Nightcliff
• a shading program for all our playgrounds with 55 playgrounds being completed in the last two years
• the duplication of Lee Point Road
• the redevelopment of Anula Regional Playground
• a new basketball half court in Holzerland Park, Malak
• safety measures installed on Bradshaw Terrace
• the introduction of automated borrowing facilities at all our libraries
• improvements to the Parap Market area
• ongoing environmental improvements at Shoal Bay Regional Waste Facility
• a community orchard and skate park upgrade at Jingili Water Gardens.
Council is one of the major employers in the Top End with a staff establishment of around 350. This number has been pegged for the last five years, with the only addition of staff members being for specific projects such as supporting our capital works program. The staff has delivered productivity savings of $1.6Million over the last three years.
Several recent media articles have suggested Council should cut services to affect savings. My question is, which one? Council publishes its Municipal Plan annually for community comment prior to the adoption of the budget each year. Whilst we have received several suggestions on funding models there have been no direct requests to drop any program.
Council continues to offer free services like the Fun Bus. We have frozen our prices on pool entry to around $3.50 per entry. Our public library programs are really valued by our community, and we continue to provide core services such as repairing the roads, cleaning the streets and recycling rubbish.
I encourage everyone to review our draft Municipal Plan this year and Council looks forward to your feedback about whether we have the right mix of services and programs.