John KilpatrickFORMER Lake Macquarie mayor John Kilpatrick says the city council should be getting back to basics, not trying to save the world.

Mr Kilpatrick, who was mayor for 11 years until 2004, said there was no need for the council’s sustainability department to have grown so much.

He said the council had a balanced budget when he was mayor and ‘‘still found money to clean up the lake’’.

‘‘We provided the roads, we looked after the footpaths as best we could, we mowed the parks and collected the rubbish,’’ he said.

‘‘That’s what council’s role is.’’

The council is asking ratepayers to accept big rate rises for seven years to cover a $15million annual shortfall.

The Newcastle Herald reported recently that the sustainability department started with about 20 staff and a $9million budget in 2008-09,

but now had 36 full-time equivalent staff and a $12.4million budget.

State figures show the council’s spending on environment and health projects rose from $23.90 per capita in 2007-08 to $42.55 per capita in 2009-10.

‘‘The sustainability department even put out a cookbook at one stage,’’ Mr Kilpatrick said, referring to the council’s 60-page sustainable eating book.

‘‘Everyone’s concerned about the environment, but I’m not quite sure it’s local government’s role to save the world.’’

Lake Macquarie mayor Greg Piper, who Mr Kilpatrick supported to succeed him, said: ‘‘A lot of the sustainability projects started in John’s time, like the lake remediation.’’

Cr Piper said when the sustainability department was formed, ‘‘a lot of the staff came from different parts of the organisation’’.

He said some of its programs would cease when contracts ended.

The Herald reported yesterday that Lake Macquarie council planned to increase its debt from $58million in 2011-12 to $110million, $128million or $185million in 2018-19.

‘‘I’d be worried if they get to the level of debt they’re talking about,’’ Mr Kilpatrick said.