pen-and-padBASS Coast Shire Councillors were disappointed there were only three people in the public gallery at the special meeting to launch its 10-year financial plan and new rating strategy last week.
They’ve spent months, they said, behind closed doors (there’s one of your problems right there) thrashing out the details for these ground-breaking policies, so why wasn’t anyone there to hear it?
But who would want to listen to six council representatives, who haven’t exactly set the world alight since their election two years ago, sprout financial gobbledegook on a Wednesday night at 5pm, when most people have just knocked off work and have more pressing things to do, like getting the dinner on the table?
The idea that normal people would turn up at that time (or any other time) for a briefing session on these dry topics is just as fanciful.
Councillors: You have to take that sort of information to the people and convince them of its importance – and it is important – but not the way you have presented it!
The first thing you should be doing is booking a session with the key local farmers groups in
the area.
Then ask to present to the Phillip Island Tourism Association, the Wonthaggi Business Association, Inverloch Business and Tourism Association and other business groups in the area.
Try to get a gig at some of the local Rotary meetings, they’re always looking for speakers. And you should even try to talk to the Phillip Island Progress Association to get their views.
Some of the bowls clubs, Probus groups and other organisations where people on fixed incomes like to gather might also be an option, especially considering that the council is looking at rate rises of 6.3% this year and then increases of 4.7% for the nine years after that.
You could also take a look at South Gippsland’s ‘Your Say’ initiative.
But the truth is, it’s either a snow job or plain incompetence producing two such weighty documents this close to budget time and expecting proper community engagement.
The Long Term Financial Plan is a very important document because it sets the council’s course for the next 10 years but, frankly, this one lacks honesty and easy-to-understand information.
There are two or three standout problems at Bass Coast:
(1.) The shire’s rate revenue is unsustainably low – Mr Buckley is right, residential rates here are $300 to $400 less than at any other rural council. We are missing out on up to $8 million annually.
(2.) The shire’s ‘employee expenses’ at $28.2m and rising fast are ridiculously high ($6m more than South Gippsland, $5m more than Wellington) and the plan is to keep them that way.
(3.) The shire’s debt levels ($10.8m and rising) are too high given the lack of spending on capital works.
It’s no wonder then that the shire can’t afford an aquatic centre or a tip on the island, much less redevelop its aquatic centre in Wonthaggi, build a cultural centre or even maintain a road into Pioneer Bay.
The only thing it seems able to afford is the redevelopment of its own offices in Wonthaggi!
If Daniel Andrews caps rates to the CPI next year, Bass Coast will be one of the most disadvantaged shires in the state – why not go out and tell the people so!