Inverloch ratepayer Mohan De Run spoke passionately about Bass Coast Shire Council’s current financial situation, prompting a heated exchange in the council chamber during last Wednesday’s public meeting.
by Gav Ross
COUNCILLORS were likely expecting some constructive criticism at a public submission hearing last week, but they may not have been prepared for a ruthless assessment from one ratepayer in particular.
Inverloch resident Mohan De Run did not mince words when he told councillors what he thought of the draft Long Term Financial Plan (LTFP) and Rating Strategy documents, resulting in a passionate address that left councillors squirming in their seats and the Mayor reaching for the gavel.
From the start of his withering, 10-minute verbal attack, Mr De Run got straight to the point.
“You have not managed our money well,” he declared.
“It’s a bad situation that needs serious reform.”
Touching on council’s $7.7m operating deficit detailed in the LTFP, Mr De Run said there was “a terrible lack of governance” within the organisation.
“You have to cut costs,” he continued.
“You can’t spend our money like drunken sailors.
“We won’t allow it to happen; we’ll take steps to remove you.”
The answer, according to Mr De Run, is for the council to somehow balance the budget back into surplus, but not over the course of a decade – he said it’s “imperative” it happens far sooner.
“$8m has to be turned round in 12 months,” he said.
“You have the means to do it.”
Mr De Run then brought up age-old argument of whether or not the 3.4 million tourists visiting Bass Coast each year should be paying an extra levy of some kind.
“Find a way to charge the visitor population to this place,” he continued.
“(Require them) to pay money for the use of amenities and the pleasure they get out of it (visiting).
“They’re getting a free ride here and they’re getting away with it.
“If I go down to St Kilda to the beach I’ve got to pay.”
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
Continuing on with his ideas of where savings could be made, Mr De Run said the 2015/16 rate increase should be limited to 4.3 per cent and council salaries should be slashed.
And he wasn’t just talking about the shire’s executive team – he said all salaries should be cut by 18 per cent across the board.
“You have to make some hard decisions,” he reasoned.
“You’re not taking any risks – you’re just collecting our money.”
Mr De Run didn’t ingratiate himself to the farming community listening in the gallery either, when he said any notion of a differential rate for farmers should be scrapped altogether.
He argued that farmers only provide a fraction (eight per cent) of total rate revenue ($46.6m) under the current rating structure.
“It’s too little,” he added.
“Conversely, the residential population is paying 74 per cent.”
After the Mayor, Cr Kimberley Brown, thanked Mr De Run for his submission and attempted to wrap things up, Cr Andrew Phillips asked the ratepayer which services should be cut to generate $8m in savings in just one year.
Cr Phillips also pointed out that that the organisation is dealing with a $26m renewal gap.
The conversation began to go downhill when Mr De Run continuously interrupted Cr Phillips as he attempted to frame his question, resulting in a heated exchange between the resident and another councillor, Bradley Drew, who challenged Mr De Run to be more direct with his answers.
Finally, as he was rising from his seat, Mr De Run said the council could benefit from singing up more volunteers.
Cr Clare Le Serve tried to get the final word in, pointing out that the council has around 250 volunteers contributing to the community.
“Perfect, councillor, you should double that, or triple it, even,” Mr De Run retorted.
“You guys are too fat, thin down.”