SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council has rejected “extreme” and “populism” calls for rate reductions, standing by a two per cent rate rise in its draft budget.

Endorsing the modified annual budget at its meeting last week, council said a lesser rate rise, or even a rate reduction, would have a compounded detrimental impact on council finances for many years.

Administrator Christian Zahra said council was in a strong financial position.

“We need to be thinking about the reality and avoid getting wrapped up in that type of thinking which is very marginal and about doing things in an extreme way that does not serve the public interest of the people of South Gippsland,” Mr Zahra said.

“When you resist the temptation of that type of populism of rate reductions, you are actually then in a position to… have a support package to help people at times of genuine crisis.”

Administrator Rick Brown said there was “no value to this shire to put a freeze on rates”, noting that different municipalities had to take different approaches to address their own issues.

Administrator chair Julie Eisenbise wrote in the introduction to the budget report that council had “made a very strategic and deliberate decision this year that our priority should be to invest in our community to support community members, and stimulate economic activity and employment”.

Council also rejected suggestions that council should shutdown during the COVID-19 crisis.

Addressing the impact of the pandemic, the budget report said a shutdown of council activities would add to the “already tremendous negative effects” of COVID-19.

“A much more responsible direction for us in supporting our region is to keep people employed, able to spend in the local economy, able to keep purchasing from local businesses, and keep cashflow moving,” the budget papers said.

Spending highlights of the 2020/21 budget include:

• $4.2m for Bair Street, Leongatha. 
• $1m to the Korumburra Streetscape.
• $5m for the Korumburra Community Hub. 
• $2.9m to extend the Great Southern Rail Trail. 
• $2.9m for the Mirboo North Pool refurbishment (funded from borrowings). 
• $0.2m to the Early Years Renewal Program. 
• $0.6m Venus Bay Activity Centre. 
• $6.6m for road reseals and other improvements. 
• $3.3m footpaths.

Council will put capital grant funding of $6.65m towards the capital expenditure projects including for major works for Bair Street, the Korumburra Community Hub and the Great Southern Rail Trail.

Council Plan

The administrators also endorsed the draft council plan at last week’s meeting.

The new plan has four strategic objectives of a united shire, economic prosperity, integrated services and infrastructure, and customer-focused organisation.

Mr Zahra said the objectives were not just words but a clear and simple direction to council staff, community groups, businesses and others in the community of what council was trying to achieve.

“It’s a fresh start for the South Gippsland Shire Council,” Mr Zahra said.

“Now we are seeking community input and we welcome good ideas [and] participation.

“We hope for broad community participation and engagement – not just the usual suspects.”

Administrator Brown also urged the community to take a keen interest in the couple plan, make a considered response and then “wholeheartedly sign up to the document the council adopts”.

Ms Eisenbise said the plan would be the forerunner to council’s community vision which would have to be developed under the new Local Government Act.

Council has now released both the annual budget and council plan for community feedback with submissions due by May 28. Both will be presented for adoption at the ordinary council meeting on June 24.

The full budget report and council plan can be viewed on the South Gippsland Shire Council website.