The Mirror News

Communities to have a say in council infrastructure spend

COMMUNITY members in Foster, Venus Bay, Korumburra and Mirboo North will be offered the chance to help decide how $400,000 can best be spent on capital works in each of their communities.

South Gippsland Shire Council voted unanimously and enthusiastically at their meeting last Wednesday to proceed with a participatory budgeting process to be known as ‘Community Budgeting.’

Participatory budgeting has been employed by more than 1500 municipalities around the world since its first documented use in Brazil in 1989. The process is designed to give citizens an opportunity to allocate resources in their communities, to promote engagement with government, and to foster a sense of ownership of the results.

Last year in the City of Melbourne citizen jurors were given privileged access to the City’s forward budgeting and strategies, while in the City of Darebin community groups proposed over 35 projects, which were prioritised by the jury. It was the success of the City of Melbourne initiative which prompted South Gippsland Shire Council to consider community budgeting for this municipality, and the process will be adapted to suit a rural shire.

The communities for this pilot Community Budgeting process were selected on the basis that they are large and will provide a reasonable sample on which Council and residents can form a judgement on the value of the process.

Following a report to Council, the Councillors agreed at last Wednesday’s meeting to allocate $16,000 in this year’s Budget to facilitate the Community Budgeting process. They also committed to formally considering the recommendations of the community panels regarding the allocation of $1.6M from the 2016-2017 Budget.

Nominations for panel members will be called for this month (via ads on Council Noticeboard, Facebook, Council’s website, posters, flyers in affected towns and possibly local radio). Each panel is to consist of six community members – males and females of a range of ages. A mix of permanent/non-permanent residents may also be considered if numbers permit.

By December the panel members should have been chosen and the panels will convene. A half-day establishment meeting with the whole group, followed by four half-day panel meetings (one for each town) is planned, culminating in a half-day wrap-up meeting with the whole group.

Early in the new year the panels will come up with suggestions for capital work expenditure (on Council-owned or controlled infrastructure and assets) in their particular towns, and their suggestions will be costed. Their recommendations will be brought to Council for formal consideration in April 2016 and if adopted, the recommendations will be incorporated into the 2016-17 Budget.

“It is both an exciting and an intriguing process we’re hopefully going to embark on,” remarked Cr Jim Fawcett, as he put the motion to Council.

Cr Fawcett, who was one of the councillors who proposed Council try community budgeting, said he hoped Council would learn much from the process and the selected communities would benefit significantly.

“I will watch the process unfold with a great deal of interest,” he said. “I expect an outcome that will reward the initiative we’ve taken. What we learn from it will help us in future budgets.”

“This is what we asked for. It’s expensive and will take time, but it’s a great solution,” said Cr Lorraine Brunt. “We will get a good outcome. We have very knowledgeable and good people in our shire. Let’s see them put their hands up.” She said that people in Korumburra were already eagerly anticipating their involvement in community budgeting.

Cr Andrew McEwen also said that he welcomed the move to community budgeting. “We’ve given a small amount of decision-making to the community. It’s a cautious step but a very positive step,” he said. He added that it was particularly welcome because many communities, especially those living outside the major centres, have felt lost and neglected since the amalgamation of rural shires.

“We’ve tried a range of different ways to engage with the community. This is another way,” said Cr Mohya Davies. She said she welcomed community budgeting as an opportunity to respond to “the flogging we copped in the Community Satisfaction Survey”.


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