SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council proudly adopted the 2016/17 Annual Budget at its meeting last Wednesday. The pride stemmed from achieving a fiscally responsible budget within the restrictions imposed by rate capping.
“Council is extremely proud to have ensured that our municipality will remain in a stable financial position despite the introduction of rate capping,” said the mayor, Councillor Bob Newton.
“I would like to congratulate my fellow councillors and our staff for producing a sustainable budget in a challenging financial environment.
“With the continuance of rate capping, our future will continue to produce difficult financial situations. However, Council continues to plan carefully for the future and has prepared a budget that is suitable for everyone.”
Council determined that the budget required minimal amendments to ensure projected expenditure correlates to the Long Term Financial Plan, resulting in a total budget income of $68.3M for the financial year.
A change to the budget included additional income from capital and grants, and additional expenditure is expected from projects rolled over from the 2015/16 financial year.
Thirteen written submissions were received and considered from the Proposed Budget in May as part of the budget exhibition process.
Cr Don Hill moved the motion to adopt the budget – and then proceeded to lay into it, criticising some of the capital expenditure. He also tried to claim credit for some of the budget’s savings.
“This budget is a product of hard work over the last three years,” said Cr Jim Fawcett, noting that rate increases had dropped each year over the last three and infrastructure was generally in a good condition. Referring to Cr Hill’s complaint about capital infrastructure spending, he said he was proud that Council was allocating sizeable sums on improvements to the recreation reserves in the two major towns of Leongatha and Korumburra. Other capital works projects, such as the Foster Streetscape and the Sandy Point toilets, were also very worthy, he said.
He admitted that the formation of the budget could be a painful affair, but it was, he said, a joint effort of councillors and officers and no councillor should take individual credit.
“Over the life of the forward estimates we are able to meet the ongoing renewal costs of our infrastructure, unlike many councils,” continued Cr Fawcett. “There are no hidden time bombs in our budget.”
Cr Jeanette Harding remarked that councillors who voted for the budget should not then criticise it, as they would in effect be criticising themselves.
Cr Newton agreed.
“South Gippsland is the envy of many councils who are not able to meet the demands of rate capping,” pointed out Cr Mohya Davies. She said that in forming the budget the current council had built on the good work of past councils and of shire officers.
Cr Kieran Kennedy agreed, adding that capital expenditure was spread fairly evenly across the shire.
Cr Lorraine Brunt said that the community had had no fewer than six opportunities to become involved in the budget since July last year. She said that it had been a long process, resulting in good fiscal management, with especial thanks due to the shire’s finance team.
“It’s important to understand that the budget is the result of a group effort, not the effort of any one individual,” said Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks.
Cr Andrew McEwen said that he was extremely proud of the budget and saw it as the result of prudence going back many years. He urged Council to further investigate the feasibility of shared services in order to make savings.
The budget was adopted unanimously.