Cessnock ratepayers will service an additional $8.65 million of debt in the next 12 months, putting council deeper into a hole.
Cessnock City Council adopted the 2012/13 operational plan on Wednesday night, providing much needed infrastructure – but at a cost.
The ledger will dip more than $20m into the red.
Councillor James Ryan said the level of borrowing was irresponsible and a blatant case of pork barrelling.
“I call this an election budget of grand proportions,” he said. “Unfortunately it is an election budget, which will cost Cessnock Council dearly in the future.”
Council received more than 170 submissions during public exhibition of the draft budget.
Cr Bob Pynsent, who moved that council adopt the operational plan, said it wasn’t about buying votes.
“It’s definitely not pork barrelling when Lindsay and Wilderness roads have been long promised these upgrades,” he said. “It’s a catch-up budget that provides for all the projects we should have done years ago.”
Cr Ryan and Cr Pynsent agreed it wasn’t an irresponsible amount of debt but their views on paying it back differed.
“My biggest fear, talking about debt, is that senior management have no problems with an overrun of $524,000 just in the last quarter,” Cr Pynsent said.
“Do we tell ratepayers ‘sorry we can’t do the roads because we’re going to court again’?”
Cr Ryan said the $8.65m would mean borrowing an additional $1m just to maintain the current level of service and take 10 years to pay back.
“That level of debt is not in itself alarming when you’re providing important infrastructure like the performing arts centre and the aquatic centre,” he said.
“(But) it might take the courage of council to do less for two or three years until that debt is brought down.
“What we’ll be paying in interest is equivalent to the year-to-year operational costs of council.”