LAST week’s special budget meeting, held by the South Gippsland Shire Council, resembled the running of the Grand Annual Steeplechase at Warrnambool and there were few runners, if any, left standing at the end of it.
Two councillors fell at the first hurdle, trying to get over the proposed $1.8 million equestrian/expo centre at Stony Creek.
They were Cr Lorraine Brunt and Cr Meg Edwards who balked at this, the first of 68 proposed changes to the draft budget or council plan, claiming more investigation was needed before council committed a further $90,000 in the 2017-18 budget for a business case ($20,000) and detailed design ($70,000) to be carried out.
Their attempts were ultimately unsuccessful and the budget allocation stayed as is, $90,000 this year plus $600,000 of ratepayers’ money in 2019-20 if the shire gets a $1.2 million government grant.
The offset, if all goes to plan, will be the sale of shire-owned land in the Leongatha Industrial Estate. But it still took the other seven councillors 46 minutes to negotiate that first hurdle.
In fact, they even had trouble starting the race when there was a dispute between Cr Andrew McEwen and Cr Meg Edwards over who had moved the first amendment.
Finally it was Cr Andrew McEwen who showed the way over that one but it wasn’t long before his mount, Henry’s Road, was out of the running as well.
In fact few of the submissions in the ‘budget stakes’, put up by members of the community as possible funding changes, completed the course.
One by one, despite the urging of councillors, almost all of the hopefuls fell by the wayside.
The response each time was simply: “That no changes to the council plan or budget be made”.
But it was a sanitised motion that failed to describe the efforts of the ‘jockeys’ (the councillors) to bring about funding changes, often in their own wards.
Several applications for roadworks outside the scope of the draft budget loomed as early hurdles for the council.
Cr Edwards, for example, asked for funding for a “bell seal” on one end of Savages Road to “be considered” and also one at Cornwalls Road at Fish Creek where it intersects with Meeniyan-Promontory Road. Cr Brunt said the cost of a bell seal amounted to $20,000 per project but she suggested leaving Cornwalls Road off the motion so that it could be made clear.
Cr McEwen said “be considered” didn’t mean anything. “Will it be done or not?” he asked.
Cr Edwards thanked him for the interjection: “Thanks, I move that the intersection of Savages and Waratah Road be included in the 2017-18 budget”.
But Cr McEwen said it was an attempt to jump the queue. He said the road staff was presently looking at how best to apply its maintenance plan and should be allowed to do their job.
“I’ve been on this road and appreciate its tourism benefit,” he said, claiming it would be done in due course.
Cr Brunt agreed saying it was bell seal number nine on the list and would eventually get done, although this didn’t help the submitters, Savages Road residents Geraldine and Tony Conabere, who operate the Basia Mille Vineyard.
In turn, Cr Andrew McEwen wanted his pet road, Henry’s Road at Loch, to be included in the budget.
He said the road was a danger, it was a priority road for sealing and he warned that “we don’t want to see a head-on collision here, if we don’t do this work”.
Cr Edwards responded saying that while the council needed to commit more funds to its core responsibilities of roads and drainage, she wouldn’t be able to vote on Henry’s Road today because there was no costing available.
Was it tit for tat?
Cr Lorraine Brunt acknowledged that funding for Henry’s Road had been shifted to a road in another ward some years ago but also stressed that it was now “number 75 on the priority list” and she couldn’t support it at this stage.
Again the response from council was “that no change to the council plan or budget be made”.
Consideration of the 68 public submissions, starting at 11.15am last Wednesday, continued in this vein until 1.38pm when councillors had to abandon the special budget submissions meeting for lunch prior to their Ordinary Council Meeting starting at 2pm.
They resumed the budget submissions session after that at around 5.15pm and continued through until 9pm, often discussing issues of great importance to the ratepayers.
Efforts, for example, were made to bring the keenly anticipated Korumburra Revitalisation Project forward and also to fund the footpath to the Korumburra Secondary College, based on passionate public submissions, but these too failed to get majority council support.
In hindsight, council should probably have set aside a whole day for proper consideration of the submissions.
But it was also good to see some genuine debate on budget priorities and fortunately, members of the community will now be able to view the webcast of the meeting to see how their riding councillors debated and ultimately voted on these key issues.
Ultimately, the only runner that got over all 68 obstacles was the ‘The Budget’ itself which came through the gruelling event relatively unscathed.
The budget is now headed for adoption on June 28 and 29.