CR Don Hill has argued for two years of negative rate rises, saying South Gippsland Shire Council was “rolling in funds”.
The comments came after a strong draft Annual Financial Statement was presented at Council’s Wednesday, September 26 meeting.
The call was met by cries of, “Halleujah, Baby!” by one ecstatic ratepayer in the public gallery. She was urged to quieten down by Mayor, Cr Lorraine Brunt.
“We are in a very strong financial position and we have been for about five years. We have about 15 per cent of our revenue as a surplus. That is a staggering amount of money to have as surplus at the end of the year, after expenditure,” Cr Hill said.
“The working capital ratio is a ratio that gives us an indication of how much money we have. In previous councils we would have working capital ratios around one, one point five. They were the guides. We’ve got a working capital ratio of over three.
“We are rolling in funds. It’s mentioned that our cash has reduced $5.5 million this year. The reason is that we’ve transferred it to investments. The money is there. We have tons of money lying around in investments.”
He said Council was “charging ratepayers higher than we need to”.
“We don’t need a 15 per cent surplus every year,” he said.
It was at this moment the cries of support came from Cr Hill’s supporters.
“It does show that this council is poised, in the next two years, to bring in some really efficient budgets. I’ve proposed already that this council, if it wants to, can bring in two negative rate rises over the next two years,” he said.
“I’ve already done the work on the 15-year budget sheets at home. It is possible to do this without any cuts to service. We are able to do that and give that to the community.”
He said that, come the next Budget, councillors had an opportunity to do something “quite revolutionary”.
Cr Andrew McEwen also said there was “ample opportunity” to embrace negative rate rises.
He believes a shared services model, with Council sharing some resources with our nearby councils, could save about $3 million per year.
But Cr Ray Argento had an issue with the argument, saying the financial position of Council wasn’t quite as rosy as imagined.
“I’m just wondering if my fellow councillors aren’t playing to the gallery today, given the discussion on rates. Most of the reserves we have, and we all know, are from grant funding that has come in early,” he said.
“It’s allocated and we need to know where it’s going. We need to substantiate these figures and that’s why we’re at the moment, looking at the financial statements and performance statements.”
He said the figures would now be independently audited.
Cr Hill called a point of order after Cr Argento’s reply. Mayor Cr Lorraine Brunt questioned the validity of the point of order.
“Procedural. Seventy-four,” Cr Hill replied.
He said that Cr Argento had “misrepresented that I was playing to the audience”.
“I’ve been calling for this for the past five years,” he said.
An incensed Mayor said that Cr Argento was correct in claiming that much of Council’s surplus came from grant money that was pledged for the coming financial year.
“The $4 million extra in income is advanced from the Victorian Grants Commission,” she said.