Before I give my thoughts on Bass Coast Shire Council’s Budget for 2015/16, I want to highlight that for the first time ever, our Budget has been set within a 10-year planning framework – our Long Term Financial Plan (LTFP).
This is extremely important because our Budget is now, and in the future will be, set within a long term financial sustainability context.
The LTFP also provides ratepayers with a clearer picture of council directions over the next decade.
Having said that, like any long term plan, it can (and will) be tweaked as the need arises or the context changes.
Turning specifically to the Budget, I would have liked us to have focused on some more options around raising revenue for projects – aside from rate increases.
I have been reading many arguments for and against rate rises in our 2015/16 Budget.
I will continue to fight tooth and nail to prevent rate rises – something I stood for when I was elected to council.
Some members of the community and some of my colleagues on council will, I’m sure, strenuously support the increase in rates as our best source of revenue in the longer term.
But I don’t hear too many residents telling me that they want rate rises.
We can achieve some of our goals through our ability to borrow at a time when interest rates are at the lowest in decades.
While I supported the differential rebate for farmers, I could not convince the majority of my colleagues to look at alternatives for other ratepayers, rather than shifting the cost burden to ratepayers.
I also believe that we need to continue to rein in council operating expenditure.
While next year’s Budget provides for a reduction in staff numbers by 9.6 full-time equivalent positions, I think we can go further.
As an example, we still have far too many consultants – an issue I raised at the last council meeting – and there doesn’t appear to be any appetite to reduce the number, based on the answer I received to my question.
Council is currently undertaking a detailed review of all of its services and this should see an increase in efficiencies and effectiveness.
However, a driving objective underpinning this work should be increased productivity and a stronger focus on what ratepayers want and need.
I believe all ratepayers want value for money.
In my discussion with many residents in the Anderson ward, I am constantly told that residents can’t see what they get for the rates they pay.
In part, this is because council has failed to date to communicate the challenges facing local governments.
Our soon-to-be-finalised Communication Strategy should help address this important issue.
However, there is no doubt, in my view, that we need a stronger emphasis on productivity.
To that end, I believe we should be working harder at having projects which are ready to roll with co-funding from State and Federal Governments.
By borrowing at a time when interest rates are at a record low, the funding would provide leverage for attracting government funding.
Debt servicing could be met through a productivity dividend.
The use of productivity dividends in the public sector is not new – such initiatives have been used for many years at the State and Federal levels.
There is no reason why it could not work in our shire.
Some of the projects these could include: traffic management/calming with a focus on Inverloch and Kilcunda; the aquatic centres for Cowes and Wonthaggi; a waste transfer station; the National Surfing Reserve; and initiatives in San Remo put forward by their Foreshore Committee – to name just a few.
There’s plenty of work that we should be proud of in terms of achievements – but there’s more work to be done.
I will continue to work tirelessly and fight for the best outcomes for our great community.
Cr Bradley Drew, Bass Coast Shire Council.