ARARAT – Ararat Rural City Councillor Fay Hull believes the finances of council have never recovered from the imposition of artificially low rate increases and decreases in the past.
In moving that Council adopt the draft budget for 2013-2014 with a rate rise of seven percent, Cr Hull said it was important to acknowledge the background to the setting of the budget.
Cr Hull said that in 1995 the government of the day imposed a compulsory reduction in rates of 20 per cent and capped rate increases, while in 2009 the council of the day brought in a rate rise of just three per cent.
“As the rural sector well knows, it takes many years to recover from drought years, and makes it almost impossible for farmers to maintain and replace assets until they are long overdue. Similarly, Council finances have never recovered from the impact of these two instances of the imposition of artificially low rate increases/decreases and ever since has been unable to catch up on the back log of infrastructure maintenance and renewal,” she said.
“Over the years successive governments have transferred the responsibility for the delivery of many new services to local government, all without providing additional funds to cover these costs and decreased their share of the funding for others, for example, libraries, which have experienced significant reductions in government funding.”
Cr Hull spoke about the defined benefits superannuation scheme, which will involved a $2.4 million contribution from Council in this budget, saying it was ‘a huge impost’ on a council the size of Ararat Rural City.
In paying tribute to Council officers for preparation of the budget, Cr Hull said CEO Andrew Evans and his staff had worked hard to find reductions in spending of over $1 million in order to limit the rate rise for this year to seven per cent.
“This is in line with the four year plan set by the previous council. Without this reduction of $1m in spending, council would not have been able to continue to provide essential services to the community, work on the backlog of infrastructure maintenance and renewal, let alone entertain new projects, such as the Alexandra Gardens Recreation Project, and to fund the placement of the long requested maintenance person in the south of the municipality,” she said.
“The Alexandra Oval project alone, has required council to enter into loans of $1m in the current financial year and another $1m in this budget.”
Cr Hull said there have been many new services imposed on councils to deliver over the years, requiring the employment of additional staff.
“Over the last two years the council’s staffing profile has been restructured to keep staff numbers down wherever possible,” she said.
“We are in a position now where individual staff members are performing duties previously carried out by more than one person. I believe that the council is actually understaffed, and this cannot be sustained in the long term, however, given the budget constraints placed on the CEO by councillors he has had no option.”
Cr Hull said the municipality had become a regional centre over past years with the opening of a number of national retailers, while also being a hub for cultural activities with the Ararat Performing Arts Centre and Ararat Regional Art Gallery.
“Research has shown that communities with access to a wide range of cultural activities are attractive places to live and are very successful in enticing new residents. The budgeted $812,000 net expenditure on cultural activities is essential to the enhancement of our resident’s daily lives,” she said.
“Much media coverage has been given to the health of the residents, particularly the Biggest Loser program coming to Ararat and highlighting the problems of obesity. In this budget $639,000 net is allocated to fund sport and recreation activities and $376,000 on sport and recreation capital expenditure. In this budget council is doing its best to provide for a happy, healthy municipality.
“Similarly the $1.089 million net expenditure on parks and gardens is significant in providing outdoor activities for the enjoyment of residents of all ages and interests.
“Of particular interest to the rural community is the net $2.69 million allocated to road maintenance including bridges, footpaths, kerb and channel drainage etc. An additional $967,000 is allocated to infrastructure capital works. We could wish to spend more in this area but this is the best we can do given funding constraints.”
Cr Hull urged residents of the municipality to get hold of the Draft Budget document to read the full schedule of programs and services planned for the coming year.
The draft budget will be on display for a month and submissions must be made by Friday June 7.
The draft budget is available at the Municipal Offices in Vincent Street or online at www.ararat.vic.gov.au.
The redevelopment of Alexandra Oval forms a large part of the 2013-2014 budget.
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