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Free buses and Christmas baubles in council cost-slashing sights

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The Free City Connector bus, Christmas decorations in the CBD and small community grants are in the sights of the Adelaide City Council as it seeks to trim millions of dollars from its budget.

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At a meeting at Town Hall last night, councillors were presented with a series of options for cuts to programs in order to balance the budget.

The council is looking for $3.6 million in savings – but there is little agreement on how to achieve them.

In draft documents handed to councillors last night, staff suggested the council could stop funding the Free City Connector bus, in hopes that the State Government – which part-funds the service – might absorb the full cost in future.

Council CEO Mark Goldstone said the council’s administration was in discussion with the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure about the future of the service.

The free public bus service runs on two loops – an inner city loop and an extended loop around North Adelaide.

Abandoning funding for it would save the council $915,000 over the next financial year.

But area councillor Robert Simms told the meeting: “I would be really concerned about us pulling funding for the free bus – particularly if one considers the previous council meeting where we had a big focus on car parking and getting cars into the city.”

“I think this is a free community service and I think it should be prioritised.

“We’re trying to encourage more people to come into the city, and particularly in a sustainable way.”

Fellow area councillor Anne Moran said it was unlikely the Government would continue to fund the service if the council stepped away from it.

“I don’t think the government – if they take it back – will run this for much longer,” she said.

“It will disappear.”

But she suggested it could be downsized.

Central Ward councillor Jessy Khera said he would be open to reducing funding for the service, but wanted more information.

“It’s hard to make a decision because we don’t know what the take-up rates are,” he said.

According to one of the working documents presented to councillors last night, the service had “recorded a growth of 51 per cent, when compared to the previous services (Adelaide Connector and 99C City Loop) it replaced”.

The joint funding agreement was recently renewed for a five-year period.

The council’s administration has also identified $100,000 that could be saved by scaling down activation, decorations, marketing and promotion of Christmas in the City.

Simms told the meeting: “Without having to be a Grinch I do think that’s an okay saving to propose”.

“Perhaps we could go a little bit further, simply because I see that as being a bonus item at a time when we’re looking at cuts to essential services.”

But Khera said the council’s Christmas in the City program brought people into the city and was a boon for retailers.

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor agreed.

“I don’t think we should cut Christmas,” she said.

“I actually think in terms of the impact of the retailing in the city that is an area that I think if done properly … can actually have a really significant uplift for us and for the traders of the city.”

Khera accused Simms, a former Greens Senator, of being a “Green-ch” (Green Grinch).

Simms later clarified that he wasn’t suggesting the Christmas program be cut altogether, but rather reduced in line with the council administration proposal.

The administration has also proposed removing the annual CPI-based increase in funding for a series of grants programs.

That would cut $26,000 from heritage conservation grants, $10,000 from community development grants, $5000 from arts and cultural grants and $3000 from sports and recreation grants.

But Verschoor said she would prefer to maintain CPI increases because “$1000 or $2000 for a community grant can make a lot of difference”.

Councillors will further consider options for the budget at a workshop on Saturday.

All councillors (except Simms) last week endorsed freezing council rates for the next financial year.

A council administration spokesperson stressed that its proposals were only draft suggestions for council consideration and “the number, scope and value of new projects/activities or changes to current ones that are ultimately included will need to be assessed as part of developing a final budget position”.

“Last night’s discussions simply form one part of this ongoing process.”

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