SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council’s administration panel formally adopted the municipality’s annual budget for 2020/2024 and its council plan for 2020/2024 at the ordinary meeting held in Leongatha on Wednesday June 24, 2020.
Panel chair Julie Eisenbise said the occasion was “the most important meeting of the year” for local government when the annual budget and council plan are presented, and that she had “a positive outlook for the future.
“These documents are the very important footprints for our council,” she said. “They underpin the future direction of [the] council and are the foundation for the majority of projects and services provided by [the] council to the community.
“Indeed, it is a very important issue that we have a council plan.
“This is Step One for this year, and next year we will be working very closely within the new Victorian Local Government Act 2020 which requires us to implement the new visions for the council,” Ms Eisenbise said.
“We also have a very positive budget and I think it will be a challenge for the staff to work through the rather large number of projects on this budget,” she said.
“It is important to note that we will get a half-yearly review and we may expect that to be a little fluid due to COVID-19 but we are much better to move into a new financial year with a budget already prepared.”
Council nomenclature indicates that the annual budget “identifies costs associated with providing these essential assets and services and embodies aspirations for the year ahead”.
The council plan “establishes four key strategic areas of focus for [the] council and the community over the next four years”.
A statement from the shire states that “these [documents] set the context for [the] council to progress a number of significant projects across the municipality with the goal of ensuring South Gippsland remains a great place to live, and [attracts] economic investment and visitation.”
Before the motion to adopt the annual budget and the council plan was moved, administrator Rick Brown said the panel had “met at the special committee last week to receive submissions” on the documents.
“We want to thank all of those who made submissions, and they gave us a number of insights and provided a number of perspectives, though some of the matters that were raised were not relevant to the budget or the council plan,” he said.
“However other matters brought up by the submissions did lead to variations of the budget and the plan.”
Administrator Christian Zahra also expressed gratitude to those who took part in the budget and plan submission process.
“We take a deep interest in every single one of those submissions and the submitters who are making sure their voice and their communities’ voices are heard,” he said.
“We want to give assurances from us that we take [the submissions] very seriously.”
Mr Zahra concurred with Ms Eisenbise in saying “these [budget and plan] documents matter because they guide the work of Council over the next twelve months to four years.”
He also spoke specifically about the 2020/2024 council plan to “point out that we have made changes to the objectives in this plan and they are different to those in the 2017/2021 council plan.
“The four new council plan objectives are United Shire, Economic Prosperity, Integrated Services and Infrastructure and Customer Focused Organisation,” Mr Zahra said.
“These objectives set a different focus for the council over the next four years, and we hope that these objectives charter a successful course for South Gippsland Shire for the next four years as we partner with local community and local business to try and achieve those four objectives.”
Mr Zahra said the budget “determines our priorities and what … we will be able to fund over the next twelve months,
“In addition to the $2 million coronavirus package, the budget provides for an almost $40 million capital works program, which includes a couple of major projects of real lasting benefit that will be felt at the household and community level right across South Gippsland,” he said.
“They are the reason local government exists; so that we can respond to the needs of regions and communities right across Victoria but for our particular district I think that we should be proud of the way we respond to those needs and are addressing them – not just talking about them but doing something practical so they are met.”
Administrator Rick Brown said the “objectives and values that underpin organisations also underpin communities, and we are held together by what we have in common, which are often common values, common objectives or both.
“The values, objectives and concrete measures annunciated in the council plan in order to assess how we perform is critical, not only to the success of this council but to the vibrance and success of the community,” he said.
“The major focus of next year’s budget is the council’s response to the impact of the coronavirus on the shire.”
Mr Brown said formulating this response raised several issues, including identifying the impact COVID-19 has had on this shire and on other municipalities, whether the budget should be deferred until the local COVID-19 impact became known, and what support would be provided by the Victorian and Federal Governments.
“In answering these questions, it became clear that the virus is impacting different municipalities in different ways and that this council needed to respond to the virus in a way relevant to our particular circumstances,” he said.
“We have proceeded with a 2 per cent rate increase and have not gone down the route of rebates and other measures which are not targeted at those most in need, as it would be inequitable to provide the same level of support to both those who don’t need it and to those that do need it.”
Some Budget figures for the 2019/20 financial year include: income of $71.41 million and expenses of $64.94 million; borrowings of $3.29 million, with a capital works program of $39.63 million, and a $2 million COVID-19 Community Support Package. Further details on the COVID-19 package are expected in July.
See the adopted Annual Budget 2020/21 and Council Plan 2020-2024 at www.southgippsland.vic.gov.au via the Your Council and Key Council Documents buttons.