Geelong council has stared down community opposition to finalise its deeply unpopular cost-cutting 2023-24 budget.
Councillors had to endure a bruising public question time before approving the financial document last night, ending a process deputy-mayor Anthony Aitken described as “one of the hardest a council group has had to participate in.”
Supporters of the regions library service said council would not be forgiven for a funding shortfall that is likely to result in job losses.
“We are asking councillors to think very carefully about voting in this budget because you’ll be doing so against the wishes of the broader library community,” Save Geelong West Library campaigner Angela Carr said.
Council initially floated a budget measure that would have seen a $1.18m black hole in the Geelong Regional Library Corporation’s (GRLC) operating budget and the closure of some libraries and the reduced operating hours of others.
Community backlash prompted council to allocate an additional $356,000 to maintain operating hours.
“Our community has made it clear that the city needs to step in to protect library closures proposed by the GRLC from occurring,” acting CEO Kaarina Phyland said.
Library proponents say council has failed to adequately prepare the service for its future operating costs, particularly two new libraries at Drysdale and Armstrong Creek.
Cr Melissa Cadwell agreed with these concerns, saying she was shocked when she first heard about the library funding.
“At the time and since I have asked my fellow councillor Ron Nelson how this occurred under his watch as board chair and I’m still waiting for an adequate answer,” she said during last nights meeting.
A supporter of the Barwon West library – one of the facilities originally slated for closure – questioned why council was leaning on the GRLC to use its $2m in cash reserves to cover operating costs.
“Why has CoGG refused to use it’s own cash reserves?” Karen Firth said.
“The question remains, does council truly value our libraries?”
Mayor Trent Sullivan said councils decision to reverse unpopular budget measures such as cuts to Life Saving Victoria, the Kardinia Pool and the GRLC is proof that council had listened to the community.
“There’s no doubt this has been a tough budget but the feedback period is there for a reason and has served its purpose,” he said.
Council is forecasting a narrow budget surplus of $345,000 in 2023-24, down from the initial $1.28 million projected under the draft budget.
Later today the Victorian Electoral Commission will announce a new councillor for the city, a replacement for Cr Kylie Grzybek who resigned in late May.
Image: City of Greater Geelong (supplied)