Balanced budget a hard task

KEIR TUNBRIDGEAlbany Advertiser

The City of Albany has delivered what it claims is a balanced budget focused on future financial stability, and says it has managed to reduce its debt by more than $2 million in the past year.

But it has conceded it has had to make some hard decisions, including the rejection of many community funding requests and the possibility of staff redundancies.

The 2012-13 budget was adopted at an Albany City Council meeting on Tuesday following a five month workshop period with councillors and City staff.

The budget included a 4 per cent average rates increase and a continued extra $50 minimum waste charge. The City managed to reduce its overall debt from nearly $19.8 million at the start of 2011-12 to about $17.4 million as of July 1 this year, a reduction of more than $2.3 million.

It has also budgeted for a further debt reduction of $1.5 million in 2012-13.

This was despite a tumultuous year in which more than 130 staff left, a controversial $50 waste levy was introduced, and a $1 million shortfall in budgeted land sales at the contentious Cull Road land development occurred.

Chief executive Faileen James said the City would begin 2012-13 with a gross debt to revenue ratio of less than 40 percent, reduced from 57 per cent in mid-2010.

Ms James, who will accept a 3 per cent pay increase this year, said the budget process was difficult given the competing priorities.

“Council’s challenge in developing this budget was in balancing what must be done by law, what services should be enhanced, what projects or activities could be deferred, and what projects, services and activity could cease, either temporarily or permanently,” she said.

Ms James said cost cutting measures would involve doing things smarter rather than with more, which could involve some staff redundancies.

She did not say how many staff would be made redundant, if any, or when.

Major expenditure projects in the budget include $4.4 million for flood management and drainage projects, $4 million for the Albany Airport project, $2.9 million for road improvement and $2.1 million for waste management work.

The budget passed council largely without debate, except for concerns raised by councillor David Bostock about “slash and burn” cost cutting and the possibility rate increases on some properties could be in excess of the 4 per cent stated average.

Albany MP Peter Watson said ratepayers were still paying for mismanagement by previous councils.

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