SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council will this week vote on a package of up to $2 million to support the community and businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
The proposed community support is intended to help locals to remain healthy, connected and innovative, and complements other response actions from the federal and state governments.
Administrators will vote on the recommended package at their ordinary council meeting on Wednesday, April 22.
If adopted, a detailed implementation plan will be developed and a project delivery team established.
The package will be funded from $0.5 million redistributed from deferred and reduced spending in infrastructure projects with the remainder coming from council’s cash reserves.
A report to Wednesday’s meeting notes this will require reprioritisation in the forward capital program over the coming four financial years to ensure cash flow remains strong.
The report also noted consideration was given to reducing the rate rise for 2020/21.
“Looking at the next financial year in isolation, a zero per cent rate rise would have an impact of about $809,000, or an average of $40 per rateable property,” the report said.
“However, the flow on effect … equates to $22.4 million over the 15-year long term financial plan and is not a financially sustainable option.”

Pandemic hardship policy

Administrators will also vote on a proposed COVID-19 Pandemic Rates and Charges Hardship Policy to provide financial relief to individuals and businesses who are suffering financial hardship and need assistance with rates and charges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposed policy extends hardship eligibility from residential properties only to all categories, waives the requirement to have hardship evidenced by a qualified financial counsellor, and sets a payment deadline of June 30 next year.
As of April 1, there was $9.4 million outstanding in rates owed.
Under the policy, council would encourage ratepayers to use a monthly, quarterly or annual payment option before entering into an agreement for deferral of next year’s rates.
A report to the meeting notes council would revisit the pandemic hardship policy if council cashflow was compromised.

New draft budget

A revised draft budget will be presented to the council meeting after the original version was dropped last month.
The new draft still proposes a 2 per cent rate rise with the officers’ report noting that a reduction to one or even zero per cent had been considered but was rejected to the long-term financial impact.
A statement in the draft budget document says COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on every aspect of the community; family and personal impacts, commercial and business impacts, and everything in between.
“Thought and debate at all levels of council has been given to how we respond in the best interests of the ratepayers and community we serve,” the report says.
“While a shutdown to minimise all spending would provide some immediate reduction to council costs, it would have much broader implications through adding to the loss of earnings of council staff and their families, suppliers, vendors and contractors.”
It says a shutdown of council’s activities would have added to the “already tremendous negative effects of this pandemic”.
“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. To have our many contracted projects and services continue in turn means their employees, their subcontractors and suppliers all keep progressing work, remaining productive, and staying financially viable through all levels of the local economy.
“For what this pandemic will take us through, it is the most appropriate action for our region that we use our financial position to help lead the recovery through reinvestment in our community.”
Administrators will vote on recommendations to endorse the proposed annual budget and start the public submission process.