Budgeting for more people

By David Schout

The latest budget delivered by the City of Melbourne aims to tackle a level of population growth faster than the council has forecasted.

The budget draft released on Tuesday, May 15 expects the city’s daily population to exceed one million by 2022, eight years earlier than expected.

Last year’s budget predicted the one million mark would not be reached until 2030. The current number of residents, workers and visitors entering the city on any given day is around 800,000.

As a way to ease congestion and a clear sign the council is favouring alternative means of transport into the city, CBD parking will rise from $5.50 to $7.00 an hour.

Conversely, cyclists are set to benefit from $1.1 million in improvements to networks, plus an additional 500 storage hoops across the city.

Acting Lord Mayor Arron Wood said the decision on parking was necessary because of a 22 per cent reduction in parking spaces due to infrastructure projects.

“We don’t take these decisions lightly,” Cr Wood said. “It hasn’t occurred for five years, so an increase is well and truly justified. It brings us into line with Sydney, so we know the price is about right.”

He also said the price-rise maintains the city’s pledge to keep an hour’s parking around the price of a pot of beer.

The cost of parking outside the city centre will rise by between 20 to 80 cents per hour.

Parking revenue will fill city coffers by $52 million in 2018/19, a rise of $6 million on the current financial year.

On the wider issue of population growth, Cr Wood said the level of growth meant it was no longer sustainable for single-occupancy vehicles to enter the city every day.

“If we can get people onto foot experiencing our city, what we know is that they spend more,” he said.

“It’s good for the environment, it’s good for health and it’s actually good for the bottom line.”

Infrastructure-wise, the budget assigns $141 million in capital works (up from $135 million).

A key aspect of this includes a $22.7 million pledge to create two hectares of open space at Southbank Boulevard and Dodds St in Southbank. Existed parks and gardens will receive a $7.1 million facelift.

Almost $20 million will be set aside for the Queen Victoria Market redevelopment project, including onsite restoration of the heritage open air sheds and design of a new 1.5 hectare open space, of which the council is pledging community involvement.

The council has committed $5.5 million to road improvements and $4 million to footpath renewal in areas of high foot-traffic.

Over 11,000 street lights will switch to energy-efficient LEDs over the next three years, which the council said will save over $1 million a year once finalised.

Almost $2 million has been pledged to tackle the city’s growing homelessness issues, including a focus on youth homelessness initiatives and support.

The arts community was another budget winner, with $16.3 million pledged to infrastructure and programs.

The council has also gone to great lengths to firm-up Melbourne’s reputation as an events hub, pledging a sizeable $17 million on major events including Moomba, New Year’s Eve and Christmas. Almost $2 million has been set aside for Christmas decorations.

Rates will increase by 2.25 per cent, up from 2 per cent on the last budget. The number of council staff rose by 20 to 1440, with the average council employee salary rising to $113,400. The council also announced a $14.9 million surplus.

Members of the public can comment on the draft budget until June 13, and a final version will be considered by the council on June 26.

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