By Michael Giles

HOW fair dinkum is the Bass Coast Shire Council, the shire’s administration and the people of Bass Coast about improving infrastructure and services across the shire?
Take a look at the Wonthaggi swimming pool for example.
It is disgracefully inadequate for a community of this size and age demographic.
The same goes for Phillip Island where there’s no aquatic centre at all.
We’re told the Bass Coast Shire can’t afford either to improve Wonthaggi’s or build one at the Island. But the shire has a significant ageing population with 27.8% of residents over the age of 65 at the 2011 Census. The median age for Bass Coast people is 12 years older than the Australian average.
We need services here for retirees and those in the older age groups.
Where people of this older demographic in the neighbouring shire of South Gippsland can enjoy an excellent aquatic centre at Leongatha for fitness and wellbeing, they’re missing out here.
The woeful general appearance of Phillip Island is another issue which comes to mind but there are bound to be many areas of neglect when your shire budgets for capital expenditure of only $21 million as against South Gippsland’s $32.5 million this coming year.
Sure, Bass Coast suffers for its high “absentee” population, that is property owners who list their principal residence elsewhere, meaning Bass Coast gets much less in government grants as compared to South Gippsland – only $11 million this year (down by $2m) as compared to South Gippsland’s free kick from the government of $21.5 million.
It’s an issue that needs concerted political advocacy by Bass Coast.
But Bass Coast could get more from government sources if it had the funds to match government program and project grants.
If Bass Coast is determined to get improvements, they’ve got to get serious about cutting the shire’s administration costs, facilitating sustainable growth especially residential growth in Wonthaggi, and increasing rates to comparable levels so that there’s more money for services and infrastructure improvement.
For example, if you owned a $350,000 house in South Gippsland, you’d expect a total rates and garbage collection bill this year of $1931.96 (incl $213 waste bins), as compared to just $1539.95 (incl $449 bins) in Bass Coast.
Maybe South Gippsland’s rates are a little too high but surely Bass Coast’s are unsustainably low.
It’s a discussion we need to have, and the councillors should have the courage of their convictions to lead it.
But equally, the Bass Coast Shire has to get real about the size and cost of its administration at 324 employees (333 last year) as against South Gippsland’s 251 staff members (down from 270 last year following the loss of 21 from its aged/disability services team). Bass Coast Shire’s employees will cost $32.5 million this year in a total budget of $63 million as against South Gippsland’s $25 million (down by $2.3m) in a budget of $62.5 million.
And you wouldn’t like to see them add a “Climate Change Emergency Officer” role to that after last week’s meeting.
Surely Bass Coast must make cuts, not only to the size of its bureaucracy but also to what it pays individual staff members, most getting considerably higher rates of pay to similar jobs in the local private sector.
So, the Bass Coast Shire Council needs to stop making excuses for the poor state of infrastructure and services in the shire and start showing a bit of leadership in the areas of shire admin costs and facilitating growth to increase income from rates. The home owners of Bass Coast will also have to give serious consideration to paying more in rates if they want more of the nice things in life such as aquatic centres and other desirable improvements.
Bass Coast’s debt is also running at $17.9 million presently as against South Gippsland’s $3.6 million.
Unless these issues are addressed, nothing will change, raising the spectre of shire amalgamations, possibly with neighbouring South Gippsland, a prospect that would be bad news for towns like Leongatha and Korumburra and also for Phillip Island. Think about it!