COUNCIL BUDGET FOR 2020/21 – COUNCIL MEETING
15 August 2020
Cr Fraser – Ten months of councillor deliberations and a nearly two months’ delay post 1 July readvertizing the draft budget – at last the Shire has a 2020/21 budget. Delayed community grants, capital works and priority projects can at last be rolled out providing much needed local government spending in Mornington Peninsula economy.
It’s a $249 m budget – a touch up on last year’s actual with capital works spending to be down to $50.9 m from $96 m actual in 2019/20. Debt rises from $12.125 at 30 June 2019 to $43.877 in 2020/21.
There was actually a council debate on this budget. This was unprecedented. Normally a management tightly controlled process, a late amendment by Cr Gill enabled a real debate on the budget prior to adoption.
The annual budget is a Council document and can only be altered or varied by a further resolution of Council. Together with Council’s employment of a CEO and agreed key CEO performance indicators, the Annual Budget is one of the few controls Council have over management. Council controls the purse strings. This is a matter management needs to keep firmly in mind before taking decisions that only Council can take to delay or vary budgeted “ready to go” capital works.
Local government is representative government and also responsible to the community to listen and act responsibly on community concerns articulated through a proper process of community engagement.
The reversal of the boat shed charges in this Budget is an example of this. However, the lost revenue has to be made up from cuts to community capital and other works in which all the community would have benefited.
Equally, backflipping in this Budget on the Rural Living Rate by abolishing it, throws an additional rate burden of $2.061m onto the general body of ratepayers – particularly those ratepayers who live within the urban growth boundary on land zoned for residential purposes.
Over the last three years Council has progressively reviewed its rates strategy to promote environmental and social objectives. The Agricultural rate, Vacant Residential and Commercial land rates are examples of differential rates.
The Conservation Land Rate was introduced in the 2019/20 budget at 75% of the General Rate of 100%. This replaced a rebate and freed up and additional $380,000 cash for weeding and environmental work for the benefit of all the Shire’s community.
Again, to promote the fundamental Green Wedge values in the Shire, the Shire in this year’s 2020/21 Budget, Council introduces a Trust for Nature covenanted land rate at 35% of the General Rate of 100%. This is a major and innovative rating reform.
There remains the Heritage Rebate in this Budget which currently provides a very modest rate relief for our historic property owners. The planning scheme review for protection of heritage properties is currently underway. This will provide an excellent basis for introducing a purposeful Heritage Rate.
Just as Trust for Nature covenanted land Rate will assist in preserving and enhancing environmental values in rural areas, the corollary is that a purposefully structured Heritage Rate will assist in preserving and enhancing our built form heritage in urban and other areas.
I look forward to bold progress to the introduction of a differential Heritage Rate in the 2021/22 budget process
There is no doubt that our community is hurting during this COVID emergency. It is Council’s duty to be vigilant as to this and to respond quickly and innovatively with new community programs.
Councillor Gill in his amendment motion has identified three significant projects – to enable groups and businesses to support local creative industries, to support informal youth related outdoor activities and to ensure the usability of tracks and trails for exercise now and after the COVID restrictions.
These are all excellent proposals, albeit unparticularized, requiring a touch under $600,000 any one of which could have been funded from the additional bathing box charges revenue. However, there are suggested cuts to other Council programs and capital works – all of which are “shovel ready” and “ready to roll”. The three suggested projects are not and would require a significant lag time to develop in management and the community and implement.
The budget has already been substantially delayed by nearly two months beyond 1 July in the unprecedented readvertizing required by abolishing the Rural Living Rate. Community groups have been held out of their grants and capital works tenders and construction and other expenditure delayed by simply not having an approved 2020/21 budget until now.
It is incredibly important at this time to get government money into the community as soon as possible and delay no longer. It was not timely to further delay the budget for these three suggested projects which could be considered in February as part of the mid-year budget review.