BASS Coast Shire Council’s draft budget was labelled “misleading”, “lazy” and “significantly flawed” by disgruntled ratepayers at a submissions hearing last week.
Only five people chose to have their say at the meeting, with each allotted a speaking time of 15 minutes.
Several of those who chose to be heard certainly didn’t hold back, criticising the council on a broad range of financial issues – from staff costs through to the organisation’s claims it is a ‘low-rating’ council.
Cowes ratepayer Peter McMahon – a council meeting regular and well-known advocate for improved
aquatic facilities for Phillip Island – had spent hours poring over every little detail in the 2015/16 draft budget document.
Even though he’d read it from back to front, he was left scratching his head.
“Regardless of how I look at the proposed budget, I can’t come up with what we are being told will be a 6.3 per cent increase in general rates,” he told councillors.
“On page 75 of the budget papers it clearly states a general rate to increase of 9.6 per cent.
“There is far too much spin, which I believe is designed to confuse us.
“The whole process has been too long and misleading.”
Bringing his own set of charts and figures to the table, Mr McMahon pointed out what he claimed were financial statement inconsistencies throughout the budget documents, annual reports and forecasts in the recently-adopted Long Term Financial Plan (LTFP).
“What is accurate and what is correct?” he asked, throwing his hands up in the air.
“Everyone seems to be saying we now have a wonderful 10-year financial plan.
“I’d say look at it again.
“We want the truth and we want the right numbers, because I don’t think what has been done this year is accurate.”
If councillors and council officers in attendance were hoping Mr McMahon’s speech was about as harsh as the night’s criticism was going to get, they were wrong.
The next speaker, Kevin Griffin from Inverloch, made his thoughts on the draft budget abundantly clear before he’d even finished his first sentence.
“History may well regard your proposed 2015/16 budget to be one of the most cynical, lazy and undisciplined budgets ever to be foisted upon Victorian ratepayers,” he declared, adding that a rate rise of 8.2 per cent (yet more confusion over the actual amount) was “unjustifiable”.
Panning ever-increasing employee costs – which are proposed to increase by 2.3 per cent this coming year – Mr Griffin also had a crack at the CEO’s $300,000-plus salary.
“Councillors have allowed over half a million dollars (to be budgeted) for just three FTE council staff,” he continued.
“Of course, the lion’s share of this generosity is directed at the CEO.
“It’s long overdue this council started living within ratepayers’ needs.
“For too long you have taken us for granted.
“Councillors, you need to get your house in order and you need to stop pillaging ratepayers’ pockets.”
Cr Neil Rankine pointed out to Mr Griffin that the council had capped its operational costs to around 2 per cent in the proposed budget, with a large part of the rate increase going towards capital works and maintaining assets.
“How deep are you going to reach into my pocket to do that?” Mr Griffin retorted.
Councillors are scheduled to adopt the budget next Wednesday, June 24.