This is the first in a series of articles in which Hugh Fraser will be writing about contemporary shire matters in the runup to local government elections.
AFTER eight months of councillor deliberations and an 11th hour removal of the Rural Living Rate that forced another period of public exhibition, causing a delay of a further two months, Mornington Peninsula Shire finally has a budget for 2020–21.
Delayed community grants, capital works and priority projects can at last be rolled out or tendered and started, providing much-needed local government spending in a diminishing Mornington Peninsula economy.
It’s a $249 million budget – a touch higher than last year’s actual expenditure but with capital works spending down to $50.9 million from $96 million actual expenditure in 2019–20. Debt rises from $12.1 million at 30 June 2019 to $43.8 million in 2020–21 as the Yawa Aquatic Centre in Rosebud nears completion.
This year, councillors actually debated the budget, which was unprecedented. Normally the budget process is tightly controlled by shire management, but a councillor’s late amendment enabled a proper debate on the budget immediately prior to its adoption.
The annual budget is a council document and can only be altered or varied by a further resolution of the elected council. Together with the council’s employment of a CEO and their key performance indicators, the annual budget is one of the few direct responsibilities councillors have over management. Councillors control the purse strings. This is a matter shire management needs to keep firmly in mind before taking decisions that only the council can take to delay or vary budgeted, “ready to go” capital works and projects.
This councillor control, with timely and regular advice from management, will be critical as the financial fallout from the pandemic emerges in 2020–21.
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 boatshed/beach box charges in this budget is an example of this. However, the lost revenue has to be made up by cuts to community, capital and other works from which all the community would have benefited.
Equally, backflipping in this budget on the Rural Living Rate by abolishing it (because the total quantum of rates collected is capped) throws an additional rate burden of $2.06 million onto the general body of ratepayers – particularly ratepayers who live within the urban growth boundary on land zoned for residential purposes.
Over the past three years, the council has progressively reviewed its rates strategy to promote environmental and social objectives. The Agricultural Rate, Vacant Residential Rate, and Vacant Commercial Land Rate are examples of differential rates maintained within the state government’s rate cap.
The Conservation Land Rate was introduced in the shire’s 2019–20 budget at 75 per cent of the General Rate of 100 per cent. This replaced a rebate and freed up an additional $380,000 cash for weeding and environmental work that benefits the whole shire.
Again, to promote the fundamental green wedge values in the shire, councillors have this year introduced in the budget a Trust For Nature covenanted land rate, at 35 per cent of the General Rate of 100 per cent. This is a major and innovative rating reform by the shire that assists landowners who protect and enhance natural values via a conservation agreement made with the Trust For Nature, a not-for-profit organisation that protects native plants and wildlife.
There remains the Heritage Rebate in this budget. This currently provides very modest rate relief for owners of heritage properties. The planning scheme review for protection of heritage properties is currently underway and will provide an excellent basis for introducing a purposeful heritage rate.
Just as a “Trust For Nature rate” will assist in preserving and enhancing environmental values in rural areas, a purposefully structured heritage rate will help preserve and enhance heritage buildings and places.
I look forward to bold progress in the introduction of a differential heritage rate in the 2021–22 budget process.
There is no doubt the community is hurting during the coronavirus pandemic. It is the council’s duty to be vigilant about this and respond quickly and innovatively with new community programs.
The budget amendment motion called for three significant additional 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 movement restrictions are lifted.
All three are excellent communitybased proposals (although they lack detail) and would cost a touch under $600,000, any one of which could have been funded from the additional boatshed/beach box charges revenue. But funding these projects would see cuts to other council programs and capital works projects – all of which are “ready to roll” or “shovel-ready”. The three significant projects are not ready and shire management and the community would require time to develop and implement them.
It is incredibly important at this time of economic stress to get government money into the community as soon as possible. It was not appropriate to further delay the budget for the three new projects, which can be considered at the mid-year budget review in February
Hugh Fraser is Nepean Ward councillor
on Mornington Peninsula Shire Council
and a candidate at the upcoming local
or mobile: 0418 379 335
Written and authorised by Hugh Fraser,
12 Michael Street, Rye 3941