Spare us rates pain
RATEPAYERS have demanded South Gippsland Shire Council slash costs to spare struggling residents a proposed 7.5 per cent rate rise.
Angry objectors urged council to reduce staff costs, close Coal Creek Community Park and Museum, abandon plans for a new community vision, and reduce tourism investment.
Others called for consultants to be avoided and for council cars to not be part of staff packages.
Nine speakers addressed council’s budget submissions session at the Leongatha council chambers last Wednesday, all with the common theme: ratepayers can’t afford a rate rise of 7.5 per cent and ongoing rises of 6.5 per cent in 2014-15, 5.5 per cent in 2015-16 and 2016-17, 5.25 per cent in 2017-18 and then five per cent per year beyond that.
Twenty-five submissions were lodged.
Many experienced councillors described this budget as the most difficult they had contemplated, given council had around $9 million in lost income and unexpected expenses.
Foster woman Meg Knight summed up the sentiment by paraphrasing a former bank advertisement, saying “It’s our money Ralph”.
She urged council to reduce the draft budget by five per cent and outlined her plan for doing so, including shutting Coal Creek, freezing councillor allowances and hiring of new and replacement staff, not spending money on brochures promoting Leongatha, Korumburra, Mirboo North and Toora, and not delivering Meals on Wheels from Leongatha to Foster.
“Our salaries are not going up by 7.5 per cent. That is way over inflation,” she said.
“There are savings to be made. It just takes a far more critical eye.”
John McKay of Foster said the average salary for council staff was $84,000 and too high in his view.
“We have 28 managers. There is a lot of brass in that number of highly skilled, highly priced people. We should be able to achieve savings there,” he said.
Malcolm Davies of Foster felt farmers’ rates were too high at a time when many farmers were “at their financial limits”. He will pay $30,000 in rates.
His submission called for the differential farm rate to be 75 per cent of the residential rate and for rates to be charged on buildings only.
Council’s draft budget allocates $150,000 in additional funding to recreation reserves, but Ian Lyon, representing the Foster Showgrounds Special Committee, said the increase was “catch up funding”.
“Some reserves are in an embarrassingly poor condition compared to Bass Coast Shire,” he said.
Mr Lyon said council’s garden crews should dedicate more time to the reserve than gardens in town.
Lloyd McKenzie of Foster said the budget failed to consider the community’s ability to pay and a rate rise this year would become part of cumulative rises in the future.
“Ratepayers can only expect to receive the services they can afford,” he said.
Mr McKenzie said the Korumburra community should assume more responsibility for Coal Creek’s finances.
Gary Napthine of Waratah North also has a property in the Melbourne suburb of Camberwell and said the properties were valued at similar prices, yet his rates bill for Waratah North was twice the price.
He said council’s actual staff costs had been greater than forecast figures on numerous occasions and said council vehicles should not be turned over every two and a half years.
“There seems to be a trend towards the council employees running the council rather than the councillors,” Mr Napthine said.
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