We’re in danger of becoming “a $2 shop shire” after rate cap: Cr Rankine

By Gav Ross

MORE surprises could be in store for ratepayers after several councillors begrudgingly voted in favour of supporting the government-imposed rate cap, with one councillor expressing concern that a lack of funding could mean Bass Coast winds up looking like “a $2 shop shire”.
The decision means rates will not exceed a rise of 2.5 per cent in 2016/17, but according to at least three councillors, it won’t come without consequences.
Service cuts and possible job losses are on the cards as the organisation strives to reach a new level of efficiency.
A few weeks after the sudden announcement that the Wonthaggi Visitor Information Centre (VIC) service will be closed mid-year, councillors have indicated there may be more “pain” coming.
Cr Andrew Phillips said he was “amazed” that ratepayers are complaining about the VIC decision while also asking the council to be more efficient.
“These are some of the things we have to look at in terms of gaining efficiencies,” he explained.
“We’ve got to make bold decisions.
“We need to continue along those lines – continue to find operational efficiencies and put them into capital.”
Cr Clare Le Serve agreed, noting that “people want to see efficiencies, but they don’t want the pain that was felt with the different service model for the information centre.”
“We’ve asked the CEO and (council’s) general managers to find efficiencies in every area of the council,” she said, adding that councillors also need to work with the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) to reduce government cost shifting and continue lobbying for extra grants.
Cr Neil Rankine confirmed that in order to meet the rate cap, the council must now find a further $1.7m in savings.
“That’s going to be one hell of a stretch and it’s going to have one hell of an impact,” he said.
Cr Rankine had thought of proposing a slight increase above the rate cap which he said would add an average of just $16 to ratepayers’ bills.
However, he changed his mind at the meeting and sided with his colleagues, who all said they were voting in favour of sticking with the rate cap because that’s what the community wants.
“I’m voting for the rate cap, but I think the community should have a damn good look and consider what we’re missing out on,” Cr Rankine added.
“I’m really concerned that we might wind up becoming a $2 shop shire rather than a shire that’s got the resources to deal with the pressures of growth and everything else we’ll have to face.”
Cr Phil Wright described the VIC as “low hanging fruit” that needed to be “cut”.
Cr Brad Drew veered away from the ‘doom and gloom’ attitude, instead focusing on what he viewed as positive action taken by council in recent times.
He said the total number of staff at Bass Coast Shire Council has been reduced by 23, and “there’s still work to be done in that area”.
“A constant theme that came through during our community consultation was that we have to live within our means,” he said.

Budget just weeks away
Mayor, Cr Jordan Crugnale said council will now consider all feedback as it prepares the 2016/17 budget.
Cr Crugnale added that council had already made significant savings in the past two years, and would find further efficiencies to stay within the cap.
“Council was given a clear mandate at the start of our term to pick up that magnifying glass and take a long hard look at the internal operations and organisational structure, find efficiencies, review business models and get more projects – major projects at that – delivered on the ground,” Cr Crugnale said.
“We have been systematically going through service by service, and with over 100 services, it does not happen overnight.
“In the last two years, we have reduced staff by 23 FTE, and total savings since employing CEO, Paul Buckley, are at $2.68m, with the majority of those savings redirected to our Capital Works Program.”
The draft 2016/17 Budget will be released for consultation on April 21.