The City has been criticised in the Daily Telegraph this morning for our investment in public art and energy efficient infrastructure. What the Telegraph piece fails to recognise is that our investment decisions are well-considered and do not come at the expense of essential Council services.
The City of Sydney's investment in public art helps cement Sydney's status as Australia's global city and represents only 3.3% of our capital works expenditure budget for 2014-15.
This is dwarfed by ongoing expenditure on exactly the kinds of services the Telegraph's editorial claims councils should focus on. For example, the City has spent:
- $53.5 million each year on cleansing and waste, including household garbage collections, street cleaning and graffiti removal;
- $25 million each year upgrading and maintaining more than 400 public parks and open spaces;
- $236 million over the past 10 years upgrading footpaths and walkways across the CBD and our villages; and
- $33 million to fast track the development of six new childcare centres by 2016 and $22 million set side for more new centres in future.
On top of these essential services, the City is contributing to projects of state significance. We have contributed $220 million to the NSW Government's light rail project, which will transform our city. This work includes major public domain upgrades, new paving, lighting, trees, and street furniture as well as major public art along the light rail route.
Committee for Sydney chief executive Tim Williams said the artworks were "tremendous for Sydney" and predicted they would be a boon for business, enticing "hundreds of thousands of visitors" into the city centre and raising Sydney's profile around the world. This is to the benefit of all the City's ratepayers, residents and workers.
Further south where our City is booming, we're investing $440 million on essential infrastructure and community projects for Green Square including new roads, parks, an aquatic centre, a library and more. This is Australia's largest urban renewal project and will be home to 54,000 people.
The City is able to provide high quality council services while also funding additional improvements to the public domain because of our excellent financial health. NSW Treasury Corporation rates the City's finances as "strong" with a "positive outlook" - the only NSW council to receive this rating. The City's independent financial auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, said the City's financial position "can't get much better than where we are at the moment". This is despite the City having among the lowest residential rates in NSW and not charging rates for pensioners living in their own homes.
While the Telegraph criticises the City's spending decisions, we're getting on with the job of running a financially stable Council that balances both essential expenditure and the investment needed to build a truly global city.