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Hobart Council is like a teenager with a credit card, leaving parents to foot the bill

Hobart City Council is carrying around $66 million debt which is expected to soon reach $70 million. According to the Council, this debt will incur around $13 million in interest, linger until 2040 and largely be paid back through further rates hikes.

On one hand, we have a Council driving customers away through dramatic increases in parking costs, putting up fees on most things, and hitting ratepayers for more money when housing affordability has never been worse. We also have truly worthwhile projects, like those related to recycling technology, congestion, and infrastructure, remaining as dreams, being shelved or reliant on the Bank of Mum and Dad to proceed.

Despite this, the Council’s wastefulness continues and their inability or unwillingness to prioritise what resources they do have towards core services and essential future projects is disturbing, as is their ability to stay in their lane.

Essentially, the Council is behaving like an excited teenager with a credit card and leaving their parents to foot the bill.

The current Council seems to have no boundaries, with resources being absorbed by issues that are well outside of their scope, like those related to abolishing nuclear weapons, pill testing, declaring climate change emergencies, increasing social security payments, and monitoring and reporting and hate crimes. While I agree with the sentiment on many of these issues, they aren’t Council business, but largely are Greens’ policies.

A quick scan of the Council’s website also reveals handouts for activities where the relevance and benefit is highly questionable, very limited or fleeting. These payments are a drop in the ocean of the Council’s expenditure but drops can soon add up to a pool.

The Council seems to have tuned into some quasi arts department, with some of the eyebrow raising recent handouts from the Council including $9,700 for poems on buses for four months, $5,000 to a Tasmanian Green candidate to teach a small selection of people how to DJ, $13,200 on a runway performance show that aims to “remind us that we are all human and that we all wear clothes and have a desire to feel fashion-able”, $15,000 for dancing that “responds to the Rivulet”, and $15,000 for an art walking tour that’s available for three days. Grant recipient information is here.

This is not a slight on these activities or the Arts more broadly. I’m sure they are wonderful and enjoyed by those involved. I am a big fan of the arts and creativity in general, but it’s a fair question to ask why these funds aren’t being directed to activities that have a broad and enduring benefit, like improving core services, saving for essential big-ticket items or simply not being spent to minimise the pressure on ratepayers. Would our fellow Tasmanian ratepayers being funded items like this? I doubt it.

My concern is not with the arts being supported, it’s that Hobart ratepayers should not be the funding source at this time and place.

Let’s not also forget that the State Government provides around $5 million in funding for arts and screen activities. The arts sector has undoubtedly been very hard hit and should absolutely be supported through Federal and State Government assistance.

We also have the Council putting time and money into initiatives which aren’t funded and left to gather dust until someone else can write a cheque. An upgrade of Collins Court is one example, the concept is there – someone’s been paid for the design, people have been paid a salary to put it out for public consultation – yet there’s no money for it. The waste continues with unnecessary activities like the underutilised Speaker’s Corner which has cost ratepayers at least $5000 in direct costs alone.

The community should be aware of where their money is going and be given the opportunity to have their say on how it is spent, beyond a pretty vision document. My take is that the Council needs to urgently look at its priorities and be reined in.

Nothing seems to be off the table, which is easy to do when you’re spending someone else’s money and if you want more, you just make the bills you send higher.


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