FREMANTLE mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge has delivered her promised “back-to-basics” budget, but with a couple of key initiatives to ensure the city’s economic resurgence doesn’t falter.
At the heart of the $115m budget is a catch-up list of maintenance jobs around the city’s parks and facilities, such as replacing the atrocious toilets at South Beach and the roof over the 25-metre pool at the leisure centre. Footpaths will also get some long-overdue attention, with the council bolstering the budget by $400,000 so it can run three repair teams instead of one.
“It’s not sexy, but it’s everyday life and people feel really strongly about it – it’s a constant source of complaint and consternation both in the CBD and the suburbs,” Ms Fitzhardinge said.
One of the streets to benefit is Duffield Street in Beaconsfield, which the mayor says is probably the only inner-city street not to have a footpath at all.
“I was contacted a good few years ago when I was a Beaconsfield councillor by a mum up there whose daughter is in a wheelchair and went to Winterfold [primary] and had to go up the road in her wheelchair,” Ms Fitzhardinge said.
There’s also money to complete the restoration of the Fremantle Arts Centre roof, a project which points to two other key areas the city will be focusing on.
The first is partnerships; the arts centre roof is the city’s contribution to a $1.25m arts hub promised by Labor’s Josh Wilson before the last election, and Ms Fitzhardinge said it’s a model they’ll be actively pursuing in the next couple of years.
“We’ve got to be smart about how we partner with people, whether it’s the community or state or federal government to deliver some of this stuff,” she said.
“One of the staffing changes we’ve made is somebody to go out there and actively pursue those partnerships.
“I think our position with the state government at the moment is that they’re very willing to listen.
“If you look at England rugby and Leeds and all those things we’ve had recently, that’s all been through the efforts of the city to say ‘we’re open for business, how can we help, we’d love to have you here’.
“It builds the case for some of these major projects that we’re working towards, like the Fremantle Oval redevelopment.”
The second area is developing additional revenue from the city’s assets, with the arts and leisure centres already earmarked.
“The arts centre has been running the same program of classes for years and years, and there’s huge opportunities to push it to term classes for school kids – everything’s there to do that,” Ms Fitzhardinge said.
CEO Glen Dougall said the city was looking at expanding the gym at the leisure centre to provide a “differentiated product” that would bring back patrons after a couple of years of disruption.
The arts centre would start to curate its own programs such as concerts, rather than simply be a venue for hire, as well as running other programs throughout the city.
“We’re sort of going with post-pandemic now; we’re starting to bring the city’s cultural soul back as far as activation goes,” Mr Dougall said.
That sees the city’s festivals budget back to its full $915,000 after it was cut back because of Covid.
Funding has also been set aside to fit out the retail tenancies on the ground floor of the Walyalup Civic Centre and the commercial space on the top floor in an effort to attract tenants.
Mr Dougall says they’ve got some interest in the offices upstairs but no commitments yet, with the mayor taking the opportunity to spruik its potential and “stunning” views across the city.
The budget wasn’t without some controversy, with Hilton councillor Ben Lawver arguing against a freeze on CBD commercial rates while suburban businesses and residents were facing a 6 per cent rise.
He proposed an alternative motion calling for the burden to be shared across the board, meaning everyone would have paid around 5 per cent more, but he failed to get support.
“I’ve spoken with hundreds of residents, personally gone out and pro-actively doorbelled people about this issue, and I’ve also spoken to dozens of businesses; I have yet to find a single person who is supportive of this,” Cr Lawver said.
Fremantle Society president John Dowson also lamented an “insultingly paltry” amount for the city’s heritage.
“The Fremantle Society has campaigned for years to have the interior of the Town Hall brought to a suitable standard for hiring out,” Mr Dowson said.
“Hans Hug’s wonderful Chamber Orchestra suffers from poor seating, lighting, and a host of other problems, but only $2,793 has been allocated for the interior.
“Council may say that the $750,000 allocated for the roof of the Arts Centre is a heritage project, but in fact it is a project damaging the heritage values of that superb building by reroofing it in sheets of tin instead of shingles or faux shingles,” he said.
Other budget initiatives include:
• Mountain bike trails at Booyeembara Park (75 per cent state funded);
• A new clubhouse at the Fremantle Public Golf Course (some Main Roads generosity coming in helpful there);
• A new playground and upgraded car park at Leighton Beach; and,
• Underground power for Hilton.
by STEVE GRANT