By Kirra Grimes
RATEPAYERS have had their chance to tell Bass Coast Shire Council what changes they’d like to see to the proposed 2020/21 budget, ahead of its adoption this month.
At a special meeting last Wednesday, conducted online via video conferencing software, councillors heard from seven of the 31 people who made submissions to this year’s budget during the consultation period, which ended on July 21.
Requests ranged from the smallest scale, such as fixing a community noticeboard at Tenby Point, to more ambitious proposals such as turning the former Holden Proving Grounds at Lang Lang into a national park.
Wonthaggi resident and former council manager Danny Luna called for a rethink of the shire’s annual garbage charge, which is projected to increase by $47.50 or 10.6 per cent in 2020/21, and which he said had been increasing in recent years “way in excess” of charges levied by other shires.
Describing the garbage charge as a “regressive de facto rate,” rather than charge or fee for service, Mr Luna said Bass Coast residents were being asked to cover much more than the actual net cost of the three bin kerbside collection service they received.
The charge could be reduced by as much as $120 per household per annum, he said, by excluding “irrelevant” costs such as waste generated from public bins, the operation of transfer stations, and environmental compliance.
These could be funded from other sources, he said, including millions of dollars in revenue from private waste collection disposal businesses, and the thousands of ratepayers who don’t receive kerbside collections but still benefit from waste management services.
“If no waste management costs are funded from rate revenue, one could form the view that costs are being transferred from one area budget- that is, rates, which are capped – to another area that’s not capped- which is the garbage charge,” he argued.
Representing the newly formed Bass Coast Housing Matters Committee, 2016 local government election candidate Jessica Harrison asked council to consider purchasing a property in the shire to provide transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness.
Ms Harrison said council could purchase a three-bedroom house in Wonthaggi for around $385,000, and partner with an experienced support organisation such as SalvoCare to manage tenancies.
Providing up to three months’ accommodation at a time for people in emergency situations, while permanent housing solutions are being investigated, would go a long way to addressing “widespread community concern about the current housing crisis,” Ms Harrison said, drawing on findings from an affordable housing forum held in Wonthaggi in February and the anticipated long term socio economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The current [proposed] budget includes $130,000 towards a sustainable housing study; we appreciate that, but we’re looking for an immediate solution council can act on in the current term of office,” she said.
“This is a leading initiative that will be the first among a journey of solutions that will show Bass Coast Shire Council can deliver meaningful, tangible and life changing solutions for its community.”
Former Bass Coast councillor Phillip Wright said it was “absurd” that Phillip Island didn’t have its own walking trail or coastal pathway network similar to those found in other tourist destinations such as Port Douglas, Bells Beach and the Mornington Peninsula.
With visitors expected to flock to the Island in larger numbers than ever after the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, Mr Wright said council should be doing more to prepare, as well as support the ongoing wellbeing of residents, the local economy and the environment.
He suggested a “user pays” system like Byron Bay’s public car parking scheme to help fund construction of a ‘South Coast Walking Trail’ and “start to deliver what future generations want”.
“The most common question I got asked as a councillor and since is ‘why don’t we have a path around the Island?’” he explained.
“We get that money, we get beautiful paths along the south coast,” he said.
Phil Dressing of the Smiths Beachcomber Association questioned the lack of funding allocated to implementing recommendations from the Beachcomber YCW Activity Area Master Plan, endorsed by council in 2014, and the Smiths Beach Town Plan, currently under development.
Mr Dressing said it was disappointing that council had implemented “very few if any” of the recommendations from the Beachcomber plan, especially considering the “significant amount of money” ($15,000) that had been spent on developing it.
He suggested constructing speed humps at the Smiths Beach and Beachcomber carparks as an example of “quick wins” that could be achieved through the forthcoming budget, which would address community safety concerns, and “demonstrate that council does have an appetite for funding recommendations arising out of plans that have been suggested and implemented and had a fair amount of money spent on them.”
Phillip Island Progress Association subcommittee member Ron Day wanted funding allocated for new road signage on Phillip Island, in anticipation of the likely reduction of speed limits at the end of a review currently being conducted by council and Regional Roads Victoria.
Mr Day said a significant number of signs would need replacement and new signs would need to be installed in anticipation of recommendations to come from the review, possibly in the range of 30 to 40 signs.
The approximate cost of sign replacement, according to a road engineer from a nearby shire, would be in the order of $250 to $300 and a new pole $350 to $400, plus additional traffic management costs, he said.
If provisions for this couldn’t be made in the proposed budget, surplus funds from the Island’s virtual fencing trial, which Mr Day consulted on as a ‘citizen scientist’, could be redirected to cover the costs of the signs, he said.
“There was a $30,000 budget allocation for the virtual fence trial on the Cowes Rhyll Road; that $30,000 was based on the road being covered over three kilometres with virtual fencing.
“The trial has only taken place over one kilometre, so there’s $20,000 there swinging,” he explained.
Council will vote on the budget at their ordinary meeting on August 19.