In a surprisingly heated council meeting on Wednesday evening, some City of Ballarat councillors and members of the executive team voiced a strongly worded defence of council's average 6.4 per cent rate rise for residential ratepayers.
The comments preceded council's formal adoption of its draft 2022-23 budget, which was unanimously supported.
"The narrative you'll always get in the papers is that council is stupid, wasteful and possibly corrupt," said Cr Mark Harris, adding that reports by those news providers, including this masthead, that had the temerity to point out council's average rate rise for residents - which sits above current levels of inflation - constituted a "shallow analysis" of council's position on rates.
"The bottom line is that inflation is going to be a major problem [for council] for the rest of this year and into next year," he said.
Those comments, however, stand at odds with the reality of what has been reported in The Courier on at least three occasions since April, with those reports all referencing council's constrained fiscal circumstances, including the impact of inflation on council's operating costs.
Meanwhile, City of Ballarat chief executive Evan King was at pains to emphasise that the average rate rise for residents owed, in part, to the significant rise in residential property valuations across Ballarat relative to commercial and industrial properties in the past year - something which, again, was also clearly reported by this masthead in May.
"We've certainly seen a significant increase in residential property developments in the last 12 months," he said, noting that this, in turn, meant residents would pay a greater slice of the revenue pie constituted by rates, which itself would only increase by 1.75 per cent in line with the state government cap.
"When you couple that with council's rating plan, which is gradually decreasing the [rates] differential for commercial and industrial, the rate burden shifts to residential."
Mr King added that, based on his calculations, 43 per cent of residential property owners in Ballarat would receive a rates notice reflecting an increase of 1.75 per cent or less.
"Council officers don't put forward an option for a rate rise light heartedly," he told the council chamber. "But we're in an environment where inflation is running at 5.1 per cent, and when that's applied to our operating and capital costs, we're looking at an increase in expenditure of nearly $15 million in the end."
Other councillors concentrated their comments on the unprecedented community consultation which grounded the budget, as well as its strong environmental and community focus.
"We've heard time and time again from the community that they want us to do something on the environment and climate change and they want us to go fast," said Cr Belinda Coates, noting various projects aimed at reducing emissions and improving recycling, including the circular economy plans.
Mayor Daniel Moloney meanwhile characterised the budget as amongst council's most "progressive and responsible".
"This is a budget which is all in line with this community's needs and wants," he said, citing, in particular, the markedly high investment into community infrastructure.
"I don't think we've ever gone through such a thorough process for a budget."
Due to a motion moved by Cr Moloney, and endorsed by all councillors, a report will be tabled at council's September ordinary meeting detailing how council can give expression to budget submissions received in recent months which "strongly align" with council's 2021-2025 plan.
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