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City backs budget and $7.5m loan

City of Busselton councillors voted 8-1 to accept the 2020-21 budget on Monday, with critics suggesting borrowing $7.5 million for the Busselton Entertainment Arts Cultural Hub would put further financial stress on ratepayers.

The $7.5m loan will increase the City’s debt by almost 25 per cent, from $30.8m to $38.3m.

Cr Sue Ricelli voted against the budget due to the loan and implored councillors to listen to the community.

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said she was “extremely disheartened” the City remained committed to the BEACH project, which she said would have “significant financial impacts”.

“The budget highlights that the City has a $17m provision to borrow funds for this project that will need to be repaid over 20 years,” she said.

“Interest payments made by the City currently total $1.2m per annum and this will push towards $2m per annum as the City borrows more — this is money that could be better spent on delivering community outcomes.”

The City confirmed a zero per cent rate rise for the 2020-21 financial year — the first in 30 years, after a 2.75 per cent rate rise was revised due to COVID-19.

Last week, City of Busselton chief executive Mike Archer said no ratepayer money had been used to lock in a deal between the City and Hilton hotel developers.

The budget has included a proposed expense of $522,480 for parking at the rear of the hotel site and $369,520 for landscaping at the Old Busselton Tennis Club next to the site.

Mr Archer said Hilton would be granted permission to cordon off a portion of that carpark and the landscaping was part of the Busselton foreshore plan.

“The hotel developers will be paying a license fee for the use of the portion of the carpark specifically allocated to them,” he said.

“The City will receive in excess of $100,000 per year from the developers for lease fees which will contribute to the ongoing maintenance of the Busselton Foreshore area.”

Action Group spokesman Gordon Bleechmore said in haste to secure a hotel site, the City had become a “soft target”.

“It appears the councillors are only too happy to give away ratepayer money to buy a new hotel development,” he said.

“In this instance upwards of $350,000 to provide private car parking facilities,” he said.

The Hilton hotel lease is anticipated to be signed by January 1 and initial works are scheduled to conclude in March.

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