End of COVID-19 restrictions sees Budget return to surplus alongside mega infrastructure spend

22 Apr 2022

City of Newcastle believes the financial hit from COVID-19 is largely in the rear-view mirror and is predicting a decade of record infrastructure spending and balanced budgets.

The Council will next week place its 2022-23 Budget on public exhibition for community feedback.

The $424 million budget is the largest in its history and includes a record $132 million on infrastructure projects including the long-awaited expansion of the Newcastle Art Gallery, the much-needed revitalisation of the Newcastle Ocean Baths, the construction of two new major recycling facilities in Wallsend and a record spend on new cycleways.

The draft Budget forecasts a modest surplus of $1.2 million, and is a return to the black following a $40 million hit to the Council’s income over the past two years from lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions that forced the closure of many of its facilities including City Hall, the Civic Theatre and its fleet of parking meters.

Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the draft Budget represented a commitment to deliver services and infrastructure that support our city and natural environment while also returning the budget to surplus.

"Our track record of strong financial management meant that during the pandemic we were able to dip into our savings to stimulate the local economy and generate hundreds of jobs when many other employers were forced to lay people off,” Cr Nelmes said.

“This budget continues our commitment to stimulating the local economy, with independent modelling showing our record infrastructure program will create up to 740 new jobs while providing the local economy with a $325 million boost.

"We're increasing our capital works program by almost 30 per cent to deliver a record $132 million investment across a range of projects, which are fundamental to improving the way our community works and lives, as well as ensuring we continue to be an attractive destination for visitors and investment.

"The budget includes more than $50 million being invested across four city changing projects that will deliver key outcomes for the community.

"Five million dollars will be allocated towards planning a plastic, glass and paper recovery facility and $9.4 million to begin construction of an organics processing facility, which will allow our food waste to be recycled to a commercially saleable product at the Summerhill Waste Management Centre.

"We will kick off construction of the Newcastle Art Gallery expansion with a $17.4 million investment, while we will also spend $18.6 million to protect the RAMSAR-listed Hunter Wetlands by remediating and improving environmental management of the former Astra Street landfill site in Shortland.

"Investment in services and facilities across the city remains a key priority under this Budget, with $5.8 million to continue the Newcastle Ocean Baths upgrade, $16 million for upgrades to local roads, bridges and footpaths, and $7.9 million for coastal, city and urban centre revitalisation projects including upgrades at our much-loved Blackbutt Reserve."

Other highlights of the 2022/23 budget include:

  • $17.8 million for our cultural and recreational facilities including libraries, parks, aquatic centres and civic venues, with $1.5 million for the all-abilities playground at Foreshore Park and $2.3 million to upgrade the Darling Street Oval grandstand
  • $8.3 million for environmental sustainability projects including $2.1 million to continue the rehabilitation of Ironbark Creek and $1.5 million for street and park trees to address urban heat island impacts
  • $5.9 million on stormwater upgrades to address flooding to property and businesses
  • $4 million to enhance economic development, tourism, smart city initiatives and improve customer experience
  • $4.4 million for improving Newcastle’s cycleway network
  • $2.1 million for community infrastructure and amenities including public toilets, community buildings and caravan parks
  • $1.3 million to continue implementing actions from the Stockton Coastal Management Plan.

CEO Jeremy Bath said getting the budget back in surplus is the result of prudent financial management and the expectation that lockdowns and COVID-related restrictions on local entertainment and hospitality venues will not be repeated.

"Despite the economic challenges of the pandemic, we are continuing to build on our past financial management by returning this Budget to surplus after several years of COVID-influenced deficits."

Mr Bath said the greatest challenge to the Budget was the spiralling cost of construction, which last year increased by 7.3% and is likely to be more than 10% this year.

“Ratepayers will be spared the full force of recent inflation with rates forecast to rise by just 2.5% if the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) approves our rate application,” Mr Bath said.

“For some local councils IPART has set their rate increase at just 0.7%, which can’t be described as anything other than a spectacular error that is going to cause significant financial problems for some councils.

“Despite our $132 million infrastructure spend in this budget, the average ratepayer will see their rates increase by just $40.35 next year, which given the current inflation rate, is an acceptable outcome.

“The NSW Government sets out a series of financial metrics that allow the community to understand the financial sustainability of a council. I’m proud to inform the public that City of Newcastle comfortably passes each of the six financial metrics next year and in fact ever year for the next decade.

“This means that we can continue to employ our 1300 staff, continue to fund the construction of new infrastructure projects, and continue to improve the liveability of our city, year by year, week by week, day by day.”

Councillors will consider the draft Budget at next Tuesday’s Council meeting and vote to place it on public exhibition for four weeks to allow for community feedback.