By Michael Giles
THE Bass Coast Shire Council is fond of patting itself on the back.
Last week it claimed the credit for restricting the rate increase this year to 2.5 per cent when voting to approve the shire budget for 2016-17.
Of course, everyone knows that the shire desperately wanted to apply to the Essential Services Commission for a special variation, to lift rates by a minimum of 4.7 per cent this year, and it was only the demonstration of public opposition that stopped it.
Having been forced to restrict rate revenue, the shire is now looking to shut down services, such as the Wonthaggi Visitor Information Centre and the Inverloch Transfer Station instead of making more meaningful savings on executive salaries and internal processes.
In so doing they are ignoring a clear directive of the Minister for Local Government, Natalie Hutchins.
Ms Hutchins cautioned local councils against using the Andrews Labor Government’s ‘Fair Go Rate Cap’ as an excuse to cut vital services, while they continue to waste money on excessive executive pay and councillor spending.
The shire has made commendable attempts to rein in expenditure of late, claiming recently that savings of $3 million have been “identified” in the past two years. Lately they’ve also cut 1.5 positions from the Executive and Management Team, delivering $150,000 in savings for the 2016-17 financial year.
But the fact is they need to do more.
Last week the shire CEO Paul Buckley revealed that the new shire staff EBA would deliver salary increases to everyone of 2.5 per cent p.a. on-going. Sounds OK but this is on top of salaries that are already way in excess of what the general business community can afford.
There needs to be a wholesale reassessment of municipal pay rates state wide – i.e. keep the same number of staff, just pay them salaries that are more in keeping with similar work in the general community.
This won’t happen of course and total employee costs at Bass Coast are set to go up by $1 million a year on-going.
With income restricted, due to the rate cap, something has got to give and it will be shire services and capital spending, set to drop to asset renewal level only (no new asset development or expansion) by 2018-19.
Compounding the tight financial situation is the disgraceful waste of money by the council
And we need look no further than the money they have wasted on several special charge schemes in this term of office, pushing up beyond $1/2 million for the failed Cape Paterson and Sunset Strip schemes alone.
The reason the money has been wasted is because the councillors didn’t have the guts to stand up at the appropriate time.
They must have known there’d be opposition but having backed the shire administration’s calls for road and drainage projects in these areas and approved the costly design works, they needed to have the strength of their convictions and go ahead.
Or else make that decision to pull out before the money is spent.
If you add to that the amount of money wasted on redesigns, delays and consultants’ reports when the shire’s own well-paid executives are quite capable of making project decisions; the councillors have only made our financial position worse.
When very prudent management of scarce financial resources was needed they’ve instead bowed to single interest groups and political expediency, while failing to keep the public informed. Is it any wonder this council is on the nose?