SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council has unanimously endorsed its proposed Annual Budget, with an extra $914,000 earmarked for gravel roads maintenance.
“That is really substantial. We have a very low level of satisfaction with gravel roads in the shire. This is something tangible that can improve the standard of service,” Cr Andrew McEwen said.
“We’re doing a fantastic job with Council’s officers at the moment, who are going around and consulting on what’s the best way to manage gravel roads. And we’ve fattened that up by putting in the investment to improve the service.”
Cr McEwen said he thought the Budget was “very responsible”.
“It’s within the rate capping requirements and it’s a new direction, in that we’re looking at providing services and looking at efficiencies,” he said.
“If you look the Budget, we have, in fact, reduced our staffing by seven per cent by shifting the Home and Community Care (HACC) services from Council. On the positive side, Council will appoint a positive ageing officer, which will be a substantial and important investment.
“We’ve got $15 million going toward infrastructure and capital developments and a substantial contribution from grants – of which we’ve got one already, with the development of Bair Street, Leongatha,” he said.
He said that unlike a lot of councils, SGSC did not have to cut back services.
“It sets us up to improve the service standard to the community,” he said.
Cr Ray Argento said the extra spending on roads in the Budget meant ratepayers were “getting something back” for their money.
“It’s a major contribution into the roads network. Once again, I look forward to hearing the public’s view on that,” he said.
Cr Jeremy Rich said Council was “looking for efficiencies within departments” to find savings.
“I’m going to repeat, and it’s the thing I’ve been saying since the start, we are working toward a structured and strategic approach so we can find efficiencies and effectiveness to be able to deliver what some people say is very difficult – which is to increase our services and curb, if not reduce our rates over time,” he said.
Cr Rosemary Cousin said the Budget required “polish and input from community engagement”.
“I just want to draw to your attention some very distinct changes that have been made. They may appear relatively minor at this stage,” she said.
“However, I think it paves the way for healthy debate within the community about fairness through the rating system.”
The Budget will continue to apply the differential rating system, but with the introduction of three new rating categories: Extractive Industries, Infrastructure and Utilities and Vacant Rural Land. Council voted to apply a differential of 105 per cent of the general rate for properties that meet the Extractive Industries definition, a differential of 105 per cent of the general rate for properties that meet the Infrastructure and Utilities definition and a differential of 190 per cent of the general rate for properties that meet the Vacant Rural Land definition. Public submissions will close on Friday, April 26 at 5pm. Copies of submissions (including submitters’ names and addresses) will be made public. A public hearing of submitters who wish to speak will be held on Wednesday, May 22 at 2.15pm in the Council Chambers, Michael Place, Leongatha. Council will consider submissions at a Special Meeting of Council in the Council Chambers, at 11am on Wednesday, May 29.