Lismore City Council general manager Shelley Oldham and Lismore mayor Isaac Smith.
Lismore City Council general manager Shelley Oldham and Lismore mayor Isaac Smith. Marc Stapelberg

‘Lots of pain’: Council approves tough draft budget

LISMORE ratepayers will have their say on the "devastating" draft operational budget that will see many projects shelved because of a lack of funding.

Lismore City Council voted 6-5 in favour of putting the draft 2020/21 operational budget on public exhibition for 28 days.

This is despite almost every councillor during the virtual council meeting on Tuesday raising concerns over the problematic budget proposal.

The draft zero-based budget, described by Councillor Darlene Cook as something that is "going to cause a lot of pain" for ratepayers, initially had a cash operating deficit of $2.382 million, according to the council business papers.

But after consultation with the council, many adjustments were made to cut programs, assets and other budget areas to minimise the cash operating deficit.

The council last month decided to defer or cancel several projects, including plans for the Lismore Lake Precinct, updating the flood plain risk management plan, and upgrading existing footpaths within the Lismore CBD.

Those plans will be resubmitted for community consolation during the next community strategic plan process.

Following the changes, staff have now budgeted a cash deficit of $282,000 for the next financial year.

Councillor Neil Marks said this is "probably the toughest budget" the council has dealt with in a decade.

"It's a budget that looks at every area of our business and the services we provide, whether they be profitable or not," Cr Marks said.

"Everywhere cops a cut."

But some councillors felt they couldn't put this draft budget out on public exhibition, especially when their quarterly business review for March wasn't due until June.

"I've been told in the past … our finance systems will take three to four years to fix so we … can have actual control over our budget," Cr Adam Guise said.

"This budget cancels a significant raft of Imagine Lismore Projects.

"The airport is going to lose us $750,000 this year, the quarry will lose us $450,000.

"I don't have confidence this budget is preparing us for those potential blowouts."

The draft budget also adopts the full rate-pegging increase of 2.6 per cent for general rates.

For the average urban residential ratepayer, this means the rates would increase by approximately $44 to $1,272.

Other rate increases proposed include a $5.56 increase on the integrated waste collection service charge, a $15.31 increase on the rural collection service charge and $7.40 increase on the business collection urban service charge.

Meanwhile, staff have also estimated the COVID-19 pandemic is projected to cost the council up to $1.5 million in lost revenue because of closed council assets, like the Lismore Regional Art Gallery and GSAC.



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