FORGET about a variation, stick with the rate cap.
That was the overwhelming message delivered by ratepayers at Bass Coast Shire Council rate capping workshops last Thursday.
Around 48 people attended the afternoon session hosted by Mark Brady, the council’s general manager of governance and organisation development.
As he explained at the start of the workshop, the council is faced with a major financial decision and is calling on ratepayers for input.
With the State Government’s introduction of 2.5 per cent rate cap throughout Victoria this coming financial year, councillors need to decide whether to apply to the Essential Services Commission (ESC) for a variation.
If an application is made, the request will be for a 4.7 per cent rate rise for 2016/17 in line with the council’s updated 10-year financial plan.
Before seeking feedback from those in attendance, Mr Brady stressed that council officers do not have a view on the matter either way.
“We’re not here today to present any view, any opinion or direction,” he stated.
“We’re simply here to provide you with information.”
Mr Brady noted that if councillors do decide to seek a variation, the decision will be made by the ESC, not councillors or council officers.
Therefore, he said, it’s more than likely rates will not be increased above 2.5 per cent.
“Most of the discussion today will be about how we make 2.5 per cent fit,” he said.
“There are challenges in making it fit.
“Like anything in life, if we have a bit less income we’ll survive.
“But there are some things we can and can’t do.”
Flyers handed out at the workshop spelled the situation out clearly.
If the community sees no need for a variation and therefore extra funding from rate income, some projects will be nixed.
These include shared pathway projects for Wonthaggi and Inverloch, Pioneer Bay’s Drainage and Land Acquisition and further land acquisition at Scenic Estate.
There was also a long list of infrastructure projects that may not be possible from 2017/18 and beyond if the rate cap sticks.
If no variation is sought, council needs to find savings of $3m in the next three years.
Participants did not hold back when asked where they thought savings should be made.
The most popular suggestions were cuts to exorbitant executive salaries, consultant fees and staff numbers.
Speaking on behalf of her table group at the workshop, San Remo ratepayer Jane Ross summed up the feeling of the room concisely.
“Local government is the only business that decides what it wants to do, what money it wants to spend and sets it rates accordingly,” she said.
“Any other business works out its income and cuts its cloth accordingly.”
Vocal council critic and former Wonthaggi Mayor Alan Brown took the opportunity to voice his opinion at the meeting also.
He told attendees that with a council budget of $78m, as was the case last financial year, there are plenty of areas where savings can be made.
“Two years ago there were nine senior staff members at the shire earning more than $130,000 per year,” he said.
“That number has risen to 14.
“There has also been a massive increase in the use of consultants.
“No one is saying don’t use consultants, but be judicious.”
Mr Brown also didn’t miss the opportunity to point out that the council’s CEO, Paul Buckley, received a $20,000 raise on top of his annual $300,000 salary.
If seeking a variation from the ESC, the council has until the end of March to apply.
A decision is expected to be made at a public council meeting on March 16.
Ratepayers say the cap must fit