UNDETERRED by all his previous failed attempts on the very same issue, Cr Don Hill tried yet again at the October meeting of South Gippsland Shire Council to get Council to make changes to the Long Term Financial Plan on the grounds that rates would not have to rise so substantially if less money was set aside in the 15 year budget.
He began by attempting to introduce a Notice of Motion calling for the removal from the 15 year projections of those items of expenditure “that are not covered by a current asset management plan which identifies them as part of a sustainable expenditure program”.
Cr Lorraine Brunt spoke against such a move, saying: “What you’re wanting to do has already been voted down.” She added: “As a council we have to forward plan.”
Cr Jim Fawcett, who is an accountant by profession, while Cr Hill is a maths teacher and farmer, said Cr Hill’s motion was “well intended but overly prescriptive”. He promised the budget preparation process would be reviewed after this year’s budget process was over.
Cr Andrew McEwen spoke up in support of Cr Hill, saying: “This is essentially about proper transparent good governance.” He said he agreed with Cr Brunt that there was a need to plan for the future, but the time to set aside sums of money was in future budgets and Council should not have unallocated items of expenditure in the long term budget “which causes unnecessary rate rises”. He alleged that as much as 15 per cent of the expenditure in the long term financial plan was unallocated money.
Cr Kieran Kennedy voted with Crs Hill and McEwen, but his support was not enough to get Cr Hill’s motion over the line. Crs Brunt, Fawcett, Davies, Harding and Newton voted against the motion.
Later in the meeting Cr Hill tried again. Under discussion was a new Capital Works Program Review Procedure. It stemmed from a motion Cr Hill had managed to get through the May Council Meeting which called for a report on good governance procedure for the Capital Works Budget, because (according to Cr Hill) funds were being incorporated into the 15 year budget without a sufficient level of rigorous debate or reasoning to justify the decision. However, Cr Hill could not be persuaded that the new review procedure was enough and he called for the motion to be deferred.
“This is a very disappointing motion. There is nothing to say we have to follow a transparent process,” he asserted. “We won’t have to do the lifecycle costing analysis if we put this through, and I think there’s a reason for this – it’s to keep things hidden.” As he has done time and time again, he took issue with Council setting aside what he claimed was $34 million of unallocated funding in the long term budget. As he became increasingly accusatory and started dropping in pejorative words such as “sneak”, Cr Fawcett, who as Mayor was chairing the meeting, urged Cr Hill to mind his language, saying he took offence at the suggestion that there was anything underhand about Council’s dealings.
Cr Hill carried on regardless. “If we vote this through, we’ll be able to do exactly what we like. There’ll be no transparency, like last year, when $34 million was sneaked in and rates rose unnecessarily,” he insisted. “I’m very much against this motion and I foreshadow a rescission motion.”
Cr McEwen supported him, saying: “I believe there should be a business case put forward for anything in the budget. It is normal, proper, ethical, transparent, budgetary practice. We need proper governance procedures and I don’t think this allows for that.”
Other councillors, however, expressed satisfaction with the new review procedure. Cr Brunt said that it was a good step in the right direction and a useful guide. Cr Fawcett said, “Let’s not wrap this up in innuendo about what goes into the budget. There’s nothing hidden, no subterfuge going on. I resent the language that infers that.”
The vote on the motion was split, with Crs Hill, McEwen, Kennedy and Harding voting against the new review procedure and Crs Fawcett, Brunt, Davies and Newton voting for it. (Cr Hutchinson-Brooks was absent from the meeting.) The mayor exercised his right to have the casting vote and the motion was passed.