By Michael Giles
WE don’t want to go back to the bad old days when local government was all about roads, rates and rubbish.
The needs of country communities and the responsibilities of the local council have become a lot more complex in recent times, ranging from health services, business development, aged and disability services, family and youth, advocacy, community facilities and more.
They’re a one-stop government agency now, and we need many of these services, but the fact is that Local Government is now trying to be all things to all people and it’s getting out of control.
They’ve agreed to take on, or been forced to take on, more and more services but with less and less in the way of government financial support.
And while it’s operating outside the State Government or Federal Government tent, it’s often the first to feel the pinch.
The huge workforce that’s needed locally to deliver these services is becoming more expensive to run and there seems to be no way to wind it back.
The result of having a more expensive workforce and an erosion of income is that the staff end up making more plans and delivering fewer services and infrastructure improvements, because there’s no money left.
You only need to look at last week’s Bass Coast Mayor’s Message to see that shires now list the completion of their strategy plans and reviews as actual achievements.
And they’re not on their own in Bass Coast.
How many different plans have we seen for Korumburra, without action, in the past 10 years for example – with the notable exception of the Karmai Children’s Centre?
In Bass Coast, they have been so bound-up delivering rusted on services without sufficient income that almost nothing new gets done.
Something is seriously wrong with the fundamentals of local government, in country areas in particular, which is why rates have been going up and up and up.
And it won’t be enough for the Andrews Government to tinker around the edges with a rates cap and some relatively minor changes to local government regulations.
The problem goes a lot deeper than that and it’s time for root and branch reform of a sector that was designed to deliver services back in the 1800s.
We saw the symptoms of the problem late last week when our rate notices arrived with big increases but it’s the underlying sickness that needs the attention.
Ordinary wage earners simply cannot go on paying more and more, year after year. And they shouldn’t be expected to pay more than their city counterparts who are paying less than half in rates.
When will those in the ivory towers in Leongatha, Wonthaggi, Spring Street and Canberra finally wake up?