Recent commentary in the local press regarding the effect of rate-capping on Bass Coast Shire’s Budget appears very worrying for the ratepayers, councillors, and officers of Bass Coast.
I believe that many councils are going to face serious financial pressures in this year’s budget because most councils use a lazy method of just jacking up rates to cover any expenditure required to fund their expenses.
Council is used to working with a rubber stamping mentality of whatever officers hand over to them.
Those who do not have the skills to run $50 million businesses are even more doomed since they are left with one avenue only to reduce expenditure and that is to slash and burn.
Ratepayers of South Gippsland would be entitled to be concerned about how we in South Gippsland will cope with the problem.
Currently we are in discussions within council on this year’s budget and I cannot of course, refer to those ongoing discussions in the press or outside of council until after the budget is released for public consultation in the March council meeting.
There are two ways a council is able to reduce the demands placed on the ratepayer; reduce expenditure by cutting services and/or improving efficiencies, and increasing the revenue raised via other means than the ratepayer’s pocket.
I have stated for the record that it is possible to produce a CPI based budget without cutting services and hopefully my fellow councillors will include these ideas when the final decisions are voted on in March.
How does a council go about cutting expenditure without cutting services in a meaningful way?
An example already discussed is to introduce new revenue raising initiatives into Coal Creek.
These ideas would bring in revenue and this revenue could enable less money to be required from ratepayers’ pockets.
This year is obviously an important year for the shire.
I believe we have the opportunity to make serious changes to the way council runs its business, how the budget is done and have a CPI based budget introduced.
If other ideas are accepted, I believe we can also reduce the demands going forward on the ratepayers’ pocket.
Effectively that means we will be raising rates by less than CPI and I anticipate from the work I have done last year that we could have rates 20 per cent lower than otherwise would be the case in 15 years’ time.
How would those rate levels feel to you?
Imagine your rates today being 20 per cent less than they are now because council made these smart decisions 15 years ago.
That is what I believe is possible for ratepayers of South Gippsland if today’s councillors take on the role of smart decision makers.
Council currently has sufficient funds to cover asset renewals as stated by the finance team in last year’s budget papers.
The only way to add new or upgraded services such as council offices would in my opinion be through competent leadership and courageous action.
This however requires hard yards and strong leadership from councillors to raise expectation on its executive team and council to raise productivity, performance and diversify incomes.
We can manage the first round of austerity cuts imposed but if they are extended through reductions of financial assistance grants we will be faced with major cuts.
It’s up to the councillors to lead the way and act ahead of possible worsening scenarios in the next few years.
I urge you to become involved in the public consultations conducted after the draft budget is released in March via the Oursay public forum.
This year you can not only have your say but you can see others’ opinions in real time before those submissions are closed 28 days later.
Councillor Don Hill, Tarwin Valley Ward, Wild Dog Valley.