Wage explosion

By Shaun Inguanzo
HOLD open your wallets Greater Dandenong ratepayers – the council is spending $20 million more on employee wages than it was five years ago – and someone needs to foot the bill.
Greater Dandenong council’s draft 2007-08 budget is now open for public comment, and in it ratepayers will discover the council has allocated $44 million for staff wages and associated costs.
Staff wages have blown out by more than $20 million compared with the 2001-02 financial year figure of $23.6 million.
Greater Dandenong CEO John Bennie told councillors at Monday night’s meeting that the council was a labour-intensive organisation whose increasing services relied on people power.
Mr Bennie used the spotlight to spruik the council’s plan to save $1.3 million on operational costs – $800,000 by review, and $500,000 by increasing staff productivity. The staffing costs are part of a budget that proposes a 6.3 per cent rates hike for Greater Dandenong ratepayers.
The increase translates into a rates bill increase of $39.50 extra for houses, or an average rates bill of $659.
For units, the average increase is $24.90, or a $415 rates bill.
The council will also sting ratepayers an extra $12.50 more than the previous year for its rubbish collection service, bringing the total fee to $167.50.
The council’s draft document states that the rates increase also covers drought-related price increases, and $2.5 million of new council loans to continue building major projects.
Within the draft budget are plans by the council to sell off the Palm Plaza strip in the 2008-09 financial year for an estimated $100,000.
Mr Bennie said the draft budget was a financially responsible approach to managing the city – a statement backed by the most vocal councillor on the night, Cr Brown.
Cr Brown told Star he was pleased that council officers and councillors avoided a repeat of last year’s lengthy budget process after councillors rejected it twice.
But he raised concerns about the dramatic staffing costs, discrepancies in asset sales figures, and excessive running costs at the Drum Theatre.
Residents have until 4pm on 31 May to make a budget-related submission to the council before councillors meet on 12 June to adopt the final document.
It will be on display at customer service centres, libraries, the Paddy O’Donoghue Centre, the Business Development Centre and at www.greaterdandenong.com.