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AFTER much fiery debate, accusations of vote-buying, and a heated confrontation, Knox councillors have finally and unanimously approved the council's 2012-13 budget.
The budget resulted in a 5.5 per cent rate rise, funding to support 15 hours a week of preschool for four year olds at Knox kindergartens in 2013, drainage upgrades, improvements to public open space and a 100 per cent increase in the pensioner rates rebate.
But yet again, debate raged about how the budget process had unfolded, with Cr John Mortimore accusing several councillors of taking part in a behind-doors deal to increase the pensioner rebate to $100.
He described the budget as a short-sighted approach to future challenges the council would face, such as a superannuation shortfall that could be as much as $15 million.
As Cr Mortimore exclusively told the Weekly last week, he warned the meeting that rates could be increased by as much as 10 per cent next year.
He said there were a few "well off pensioners" who should not get a rebate at all, and said 150 Knox pensioners had managed to afford an overseas holiday in the past year - "there is no real balance in terms of need for the community".
Councillors Mick Van de Vreede and Sue McMillan also reiterated their stance that the pensioner rates rebate increase should have been replaced with a more equitable policy.
Cr Joe Cossari said there was "no conspiracy" and "the sky hadn't fallen in" on Knox when the rebate was included, as some councillors made out it would. He also said he was "disgusted" with one councillor - who he wouldn't name - who had told him all the pensioners should go out and "get a job".
The civic centre repair funds were also discussed, with $2 million being taken out of the asset renewal fund in case insurance didn't cover the damage following a landslip.
Just $100,000 had been allocated for the civic centre repairs in the draft budget, but mayor Adam Gill said the $2 million allocation was "fully funded" in the final budget. He called the budget discussions in the weeks leading up to the vote "vibrant".
He was accused of vote buying by Cr David Cooper when the draft budget was released.
Cr McMillan laughingly disagreed: "I wouldn't call it vibrant, I would say it was a robust discussion."
Cr Gill said he was very happy with the budget, particularly because it covered much of what he said he wanted achieve when he became mayor in December last year.
He was pleased with the investment in libraries, preschools and open space, as well as the focus on older people in Knox so they could continue to live in their own homes. "We need to ensure that people can live in their home with dignity," he said.
A $90,000 green wedge management plan was also given the go-ahead, $5000 was allocated to Knox Gymnastics for new lighting and the Stamford Park conservation master plan received $10,000.
However, the floodlight installation project at Kings Park will not be funded this year because money the council was relying on from the Department of Planning and Community Development fell through.