Recreation centre the big winner in budget as rate rise returns

David Schout

An extra $25 million will be pumped into the redevelopment of the Kensington Community Aquatic and Recreation Centre, the City of Melbourne announced in its latest budget.

The project, which will feature a new 25-metre pool, three full-sized multipurpose courts and large spaces for community use, will benefit from the extra funding, on top of $10.2 million in 2021-22.

With demolition works complete, construction was underway on the site set for completion late next year.

The council’s 2022-23 draft budget, released on May 17, also included $810,000 for new cycling infrastructure across Kensington, North Melbourne and West Melbourne.

However, the news wasn’t so good for local residents and businesses already concerned about the rising cost of living, after the City of Melbourne announced a 1.75 per cent rate rise — its first announced increase since 2019.

In 2020, within months of Melbourne’s first COVID-19 lockdown, the council announced a freeze on rate increases, while in 2021 it passed on a discount to both residential and commercial ratepayers that saved the majority of ratepayers between $10 and $50.

However, this year it opted to increase rates — which contribute around two-thirds of council revenue — in line with the rate cap rise announced by the state government late last year.

The City of Melbourne did, however, announce a rate discount of up to $247 for pensioners, which it said was the most generous in the state. 

Across the municipality, the council’s latest budget featured a record $837.8 million council spend in the next financial year.

This included $254 million on infrastructure; a $140 million investment in Lord Mayor Sally Capp’s signature Greenline project over four years, plus a further $50 million for the Queen Victoria Market Precinct Renewal.

The council also spent big in keeping the city clean and free of graffiti — something it believed was imperative to attracting visitors as the city recovers from the pandemic — with a sizeable $33.6 million spend to “clean up our streets and keep them free from graffiti”.

“This is a landmark budget that restores city confidence and continues to invest in Melbourne’s momentum,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said.

“We’ve designed a budget that delivers on what matters most – making our city cleaner, delivering more events and bringing people back to the city.”     

“We’re investing to grow our economy beyond pre-pandemic levels and create more jobs, more events and more amenities for our residents, traders and visitors.”

The council had expected to return to surplus in the upcoming financial year, but this has now been pushed back to 2023-24.

The underlying deficit announced on May 17 was $11.3 million

According to the budget papers, this was due to the “unforeseen impacts of the Omicron variant and the sixth COVID-19 lockdown in 2021”.

“Years of disciplined financial management made it possible to increase investment to support our community as the pandemic steered our city off track over a difficult two years,” the council’s finance portfolio chair Cr Philip Le Liu said.

“After delivering consecutive recovery-focused budgets and providing $17 million in rates relief, this draft Budget puts us in a strong position to deliver a surplus in 2023–24.”     

Community feedback on the draft budget can be provided on the Participate Melbourne website from until June 14, before the final budget will be presented to the council for adoption on June 28. •

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