– How administrators may have put our projects out of reach
NEW council candidates and voters beware: There’s been a new set of hurdles, over which those promoting swimming pool refurbishments, rail trail underpasses, stadium extensions and simple roadworks, will have to jump if they want to get their pet projects funded.
At last month’s council meeting, the state-appointed administrators put yet another policy in place to limit, especially the largesse of a newly elected council, looking to ram election promises through.
Under the new ‘Community and Economic Infrastructure Blueprint 2021-2036’, it won’t simply be enough for a councillor to secure the votes of a majority of his colleagues to get a project funded.
It will have to pass a rigorous assessment, among other things, to be analysed for its strategic merit and alignment with the Council Plan 2021-2024 and 2021 Blueprint principles.
In other words, projects and services, such as the ill-fated Community Transport Service, which put enormous pressure on the council’s finances for little result, could be buried in the assessment process for years… and ultimately never see the light of day.
Would the $5.73 million Mirboo North refurbishment project have survived this process, for example, even with its $1 million community contribution? Unlikely.
But it’s something the community, councillors and the shire’s officers themselves will have to take into account.
Although how the council expects the community to wade through the three documents which make up the Blueprint, including the Blueprint report of 104 pages, the Strategy & Audit Report Part 1 of 90 pages, and Part 2 of 156 pages, is anyone’s guess.
How much the report cost to compile is again anyone’s guess.
Nonetheless, administrator Rick Brown commended the Blueprint to the council.
“What this blueprint does is provide a way of identifying, prioritising and, as importantly, delivering capital works projects in a way which is transparent,
strategic, fiscally responsible and resident-focused.
“And the evidence of the resident focus is the creation of the Community Infrastructure Advisory Committee, which has had a significant contribution to the development of this project and, in particular, the development of its principles.
“Might I say, however, that policies such as these are only as good as the level of realism that underpins them. They have to be grounded in what is, not what might be.
“And I would commend to all residents, not just the report, but the actual policy. And, in particular, the executive summary, and more precisely within that, the general trends.
“And I think there’s some points in the general trends that behoves us all to remember. What the policy says is this: it is clear that unmet demand from years of consultation, requests, council and officer identified needs, and strategic document outcomes, have created an unresolved list of projects.
“It is important to recognise that available funds for these projects are limited, and that, in the past, this message has not been accepted or communicated to the community.
“That the well-managed and funded portfolio of council-owned buildings stands in stark contrast with those that are community-managed or community-owned, and which are facing increasing challenges, which in turn will pose serious challenges for the shire as time goes forward.
“And fourthly, that the small number of ratepayers in this municipality, relative to surrounding municipalities, and the size of the portfolio, means the council may be faced with some shortfall in capacity to fulfill, and that has challenges in itself.
“It is for these sorts of reasons that it is imperative that there be a policy such as this blueprint.
“It’s important that the blueprint be built on a foundation of reality which I believe it is. And it is important that if it is well administered and well implemented, that it will be a substantial resource enabling the shire and the community to face the increasing challenges it is going to confront.”
The Blueprint revolves around six guiding principles which help guide and assess all proposals. Each proposal should aim to ensure:
1. Community benefit is maximised: Maximise community benefit by promoting access, inclusion, economic contribution and by building social connection.
2. Alignment with strategic direction: Undergo strategic community planning to ensure the proposal aligns with council’s service and strategic direction.
3. Whole of life costs are clear: Demonstrate whole of life costs and adherence to asset management principles to ensure community facilities are multi-functional (where possible), well maintained, well managed, fit for purpose and in the best position for the municipality.
4. Service and use are appropriate: Ensure the proposal meets the level of service and appropriate use of the facility so that it will meet the community’s needs now and into the future, accounting for contemporary regulations and standards.
5. Risk is managed: Demonstrate risk mitigation within a proposal to safeguard the future project for all concerned.
6. Financial commitment is understood: Justify all financial aspects of a proposal with consideration of council’s whole of life responsibilities by thorough planning and business case/feasibility studies where the need is identified.