By Luke Voogt
A “record” $209 million infrastructure spend – including an extra $21.84 million for a planned northern health hub – forms the centrepiece of council’s newly endorsed budget.
Council on Tuesday adopted its 2021-22 budget, including the economic stimulus program aimed at helping Geelong recover from COVID-19 and cope with its expanding population.
“We have identified $209 million worth of priorities in capital works projects … including renewing ageing assets at a scale never seen before and for new facilities,” said Anthony Aitken, council’s finance portfolio chair.
“Budgets are not just about money, they’re about values and priorities, and this budget reflects that.”
The $21.84 million investment takes council’s total commitment to the now fully-funded Northern Aquatic and Community Hub to $44.84 million.
Earlier in the week council announced federal government had formally approved the allocation of $8.26 million for the planned $61.6 million preventative health facility.
Cr Aitken and fellow Windermere ward councillor Kylie Grzybek described the project as “immensely important” and praised local advocates and federal senator Sarah Henderson for their support.
Despite the record spend, the budget “plans for a return to surplus within this council’s term”, according to Geelong mayor Stephanie Asher.
Council will maintain fees and charges at 2020-21 levels at many swimming and recreational facilities, Breamlea Caravan Park, National Wool Museum and for building permits.
“Despite continuing lower revenues due to the impacts of COVID-19, we have frozen many sport, recreation and cultural fees to encourage greater use of our facilities,” Cr Asher said.
The general rate rise is the lowest recorded in greater Geelong’s history, with the increase limited to the Victorian Government’s 1.5 per cent cap, according to council.
Council has frozen the average movement on commercial rates and removed the Central Geelong Marketing (CGM) levy.
The budget also includes a central Geelong parking initiative where motorists pay for one hour and get another free in two-hour zones, costing $2.1 million in 2021-22 and $8.3m over four years.
The compromise comes after a council officer report in March found a council proposal for free two-hour parking had “no tangible or intangible benefits” for the wider community.
The forecast underlying operating deficit for 2021-22 is now $8.1 million.