RED carpet, not red tape – an increasing focus on customer service. That, said chief executive officer Tim Tamlin, is what the shire council is aiming for.
Mr Tamlin was speaking at a community consultation session at Foster last Thursday. Members of the public were invited to contribute their ideas for South Gippsland Shire Council’s 2012/3 Budget and Annual Plan, so that it is reflective of the community’s strategic goals. Sessions have also been held at Mirboo North and Korumburra and there will be a session at Leongatha tonight (7pm in Council Chambers).
About 15 people, most representative of local clubs and associations, attended the session at Foster, pleased to be given the opportunity to have their say and discuss their ideas with shire councillors and senior officers.
Long-time member of the Foster Football Club and the Foster Showgrounds committee of management Marilyn Flett was among those who spoke up – only what she had to say was presumably not what the shire officers wanted to hear.
As Ms Flett sees it, there are some big holes in Council’s red carpet.
Ms Flett quoted figures from the shire’s own report that indicate that South Gippsland Shire spends far less than other shires on recreational facilities. It has done so for some time (the report came out in 2007/8), despite requests for more money and despite a stated aim in its recreation strategy to “review the proportion of funds available to sporting reserves” and a policy directive to “review funds for committees of management with a firmer policy base for the allocation of operational grants”.
Ms Flett accused the shire of taking advantage of volunteers like Geoff McCraw, who work tirelessly to maintain the recreation grounds owned by the shire but looked after by Section 86 committees – there are four across South Gippsland.
“Our volunteers are now at crisis point,” said Ms Flett. “You must support your volunteers or you will have to look after the reserves yourself.”
Later, she told The Mirror that she found the CEO’s response that a volunteer coordinator had been appointed “to support volunteers and recruit new ones” totally unsatisfactory.
Ms Flett said that as well as the question of funding, the shire’s own recreation strategy had recognised the difficulty of maintaining sports facilities with volunteers and identified a need for more assistance for volunteers and committees.
“But this just hasn’t happened,” she said.
Ms Flett said that far from following the recommendations of its review, about 18 months ago the shire abandoned the Recreation Advisory Committee, of which she had been a member.
“The committee worked well. It used to make recommendations to Council prioritising grants for the shire’s 21 recreation reserves. Now the channels of communication have been cut, so Council does not get a true picture of what facilities are need most.”
Ms Flett said that the shire did not spend enough on maintaining its recreation facilities, let alone improving them.
“The Foster Showgrounds are high-use. Now that there’s a playground – which is proving very popular – there is more rubbish and the toilets are used more. The stadium and all the grounds that surround it are the preserve of the Section 86 committee. Geoff McCraw is out in all hours doing the mowing, and all he has is a second-hand mower. The various user groups pay rent, but it’s doesn’t go far enough. I just feel that the shire is taking advantage of the good will of the volunteers and town pride which ensures facilities like the showgrounds are kept looking good.”
Ms Flett said that despite all the talk of “public consultation” she felt far from confident that anything would change.
On a more positive note, there is much that the shire has delivered on in recent years, and many more projects in the pipeline that will no doubt please many ratepayers. The CEO and senior officers mentioned some of these in the consultation session at Foster. They listed among this past year’s achievements the Corner Inlet Centre for Children at Foster, the Rural Land Use Strategy, and structure plans for Meeniyan, Loch, Nyora and Poowong. Capital projects of interest to Corner Inlet residents, in particular, which have had funding allocated to them include the Sandy Point Community Centre, kerbing and channel work in Toora’s main street, and extension of the footpath from Foster township up to Ahern’s fruit shop.
Community members were invited to complete a questionnaire from the shire asking: “Which services do you think we do well enough and which should we do better?” and Mr Tamlin promised that ideas that people came up with would be fed into the shire’s budget process.
“A lot of the ideas brought up last year have been included in our forward planning,” he said, inviting people to also submit ideas to Council on-line or attend further public consultation sessions early next year.