Titbits: spending up, trees down and doin’ the Sharp shimmy

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Carol Altmann – The Terrier

There are so many wasteful decisions being made in our city at the moment that I’m going to throw it all into one big bowl for you and call it a dog’s breakfast.

First, the Warrnambool City Council has just advertised three new senior management positions at around $100,000 a year that will add, roughly, at least another $300,000 a year to its wage bill.

This comes, of course, as the council awaits to hear whether it is allowed to raise rates above the 2.5% cap to 4.5% for the next three years because it needs to save $700,000 a year.

Hiring more senior staff…while trying to save money. I can’t work that one out.

The three new positions include not one, but two management positions to work on developing Reid Oval so that it can host AFL practice matches, even though council-operated childcare and home care services may have to be cut and the art gallery (still) gets just $15,000 a year to spend on buying new art.

Welcome to the spending priorities in the city of WooBoo.

The third position is a project officer who will help develop the new joint library with TAFE.

All three positions run until 2022, which means a total salary bill of at least $300,000 x three years = $900,000.


This comes on top of the current contingent of senior council staff already earning over $100,000 and any consultants that, no doubt, will also be brought into the mix.

In 2016, the council had 21 staff earning a total salary package of more than $120,000 and, last year, it spent $900,000 on consultants. Let’s not forget the CEO position also attracts a salary of more than $310,000.

My eyeballs are watering.

Any day now the Essential Services Commission will rule whether the council has done enough to cut its discretionary spending, which brings us to the Sharp shimmy…

As we know, Sharp Airlines is shimmying off stage and ending its passenger service from Warrnambool to Essendon.

This is not a shock. In fact, it was entirely predictable, given the airline planned to close the route in January, but was offered $300,000 of public funds to try and turn things around by May: an almost impossible task.

Should Sharp have taken the money? Should it have just said “no thanks, we’re closing and that’s it”?

That is up for debate, but the bigger question is why did our council – our financially strapped council – provide $78,000 of that money? Why?

Sharp didn’t ask for it, but the council – apparently via former CEO Bruce Anson – handed it over anyway.

It is this sort of waste that makes ratepayers’ hair stand on end. Which brings us to chopping down trees for more bitumen.

Paving paradise: an old New Zealand Christmas tree is chainsawed to make way for a new footpath in Kepler St. Image: supplied.

As we know, the council recently and reluctantly saved two 115-year-old Moreton Bay fig trees from being axed to make way for a new footpath, only to last Friday cut down an 80-plus-year-old New Zealand Christmas tree in Kepler St…to make way for a new footpath.

It did so without consultation or notification, which means its tree policy is not worth the paper it is written on.

A council spokesman told the newspaper (I didn’t get any answers to my questions on this topic) that the tree had to go because the public was baying for a high-quality roundabout at the corner of Timor and Kepler streets.

Did you hear any baying? I didn’t.

Did you see any petition with hundreds of signatures saying please build us a high-quality roundabout on Kepler St? I haven’t.

What I have heard is person after person saying please stop wasting our hard-earned ratepayer and taxpayer dollars.


What I have also heard is people saying please stop turning our CBD into an urban wasteland of cement and concrete and pavers, where trees are seen as a problem, not part of the solution.

Meanwhile, in Paddington, the trees and pavement and pedestrians get along just fine. Image: supplied.

Other cities, truly cosmopolitan cities like Hobart and Sydney, value their trees.

In Hobart, they put rubber matting over the roots to protect the pavement and the tree.

In Paddington, Sydney, they let the trees grow right up through the pavement and people go around them or use the path across the street. Radical, hey?


The revitalisation of the CBD started out as a reason for celebration, but after a $3 million cost blowout and an ongoing obsession with building enormous pedestrian crossings and new roundabouts, it has turned into a financial nightmare.

We can only hope that we all wake up soon.

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4 thoughts on “Titbits: spending up, trees down and doin’ the Sharp shimmy”

  1. We grew up in Kepler St, those trees were our piece of green on the pavement. How does the council get away with this? Is there a local government ombudsman who can investigate these rogues?

    1. There is a Victorian Ombudsman who can investigate council decisions. I find it difficult to see how these tree removals fit in with the council’s tree policy.

      1. That’s true about the Ombudsman but it’s important to contact the council first and try to ‘resolve’ it there before contacting VO. Otherwise VO will ask ‘have you done your best to resolve this with council first’ and you’ll need to provide some evidence that you have.
        On the new hires part, putting senior managers in place can actually be more cost effective in the long run, if they’re the right people for the job who can save money on procurement, contract staffing costs etc. I get what you’re saying Carol about potential wastage and the risk is that council could become top-heavy, with too many managers and not enough frontline staff

        1. Thanks for this comment Steve and yes, becoming top heavy is the issue, while any staff cuts are happening further down the ranks and actually affect customer service. You are also spot on, of course, about the Ombudsman and the process. (I must admit I try not to give too much advice on what avenues people might choose to take, because it is not really my role, but I just point them in the right direction, from where they can take it further if they wish.)

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