SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council could achieve significant savings if only it had the courage to take a fresh look at its Budget. That at least is the view of Meg Knight. The Foster resident was one of eleven ratepayers who chose to speak last Wednesday to their submissions to the Proposed 2015-2016 Annual Budget. Council received a total of 25 written submissions, all of which will be considered and determined at a special meeting of Council on June 10.
While the majority of speakers had specific issues of concern, the target for Ms Knight, along with Wilma Western, Vince Morfuni and Ian Nicholas, was the Proposed Budget as a whole.
Saying she was very disappointed in the document, Ms Knight suggested a number of ways in which Council could make savings. It could, for instance, “can consultancies” and “ditch Councillor discretionary allowances”. “Why are councillors given the opportunity to spend untargeted monies?” she asked in relation to these allowances.
She also recommended against an expansion of South Gippsland SPLASH, against building a new municipal precinct and against an economic development consultancy.
Ms Knight urged Council to lease back the caravan parks, arguing that commercial ventures should not be run by Council. Instead, it should get the lease income and thus save $500,000 in employee costs. Similarly, Council should “stem the bleeding” at Coal Creek and either close it or pass management responsibility to an incorporated volunteer community body and so save $700,000 or 2 per cent in rates per annum.
Also in her “fresh budget look” Ms Knight called on Council to “ditch duplication”. “Council has an economic development unit, but it is federal and state governments which set policies on local economic development,” she argued. She also decried duplication in the area of tourism.
Wilma Western was likewise critical of the Proposed Budget. She questioned the value of the OurSay project, took Council to task for employing staff with “nebulous titles and unclear work descriptions” such as “development” or “community strengthening”, criticised the “over-abundance of management positions” in the staff structure, and was scathing of Council’s plans for a new municipal building.
“I fear the decision [on the budget] has already been made,” said a gloomy Vince Morfuni. “The process of putting the draft budget out for review is a sham…because there is not sufficient time to meet the deadlines if Council was really serious about taking opinions of ratepayers seriously and reworking the budget.”
The Venus Bay resident went on to suggest that the draft budget should not be based on a CPI figure of 3 per cent, because the true figure was less, and there should not be allowance for capital expenditure of $18M in relation to the proposed new council office since it was far from being a certainty. He slammed the “top heavy” management at the shire, saying staffing costs were too high, and he recommended cancelling services that do not make a profit. Council, he said, should be focussing on essential services and expenditure and working out the best way to raise the necessary funds. “There is nothing in the draft that requires productivity savings nor any strategy for containing costs in the future,” he added.
Ian Nicholas said: “I genuinely believe that the proposed budget is fiscally irresponsible and fails to address underlying operational costs that have been allowed to continually increase for many years.” He implored Council to “get back to basics” and direct funding into the core service areas of roads, rates and rubbish.
“You as a council must initiate a complete service review of all council services to determine where savings could be made,” he recommended. He expressed disappointment in the organisation restructure, saying that it “delivers very little if any savings” and concluded by urging Council to “take control and cut costs”.