report from the roundtable – 25 may
This week's council meeting saw the budget released for public comment. It has been a challenging time developing this year's budget. More and more we find the state government shifting costs to local government putting more pressure on ratepayers.
This year's draft budget indicates a rate rise of 7.65% but there are a few factors that come into play to come arrive at this figure. The first is a $580,000 levy for landfill waste, imposed by the state government at the 11th hour of budget deliberations, this levy represents .7% of the Yarra Ranges rate increase. I'd like to think that the income raised from this levy on behalf of the state is returned to Yarra Ranges to implement waste reduction programs locally and consequently reduce waste costs to residents. How equitably the income from the levy will be distributed to local government remains to be seen.
Another pressure on our budget has been bushfire preparations, the additional works in bushland reserves and roadsides represents an additional .9% on the rate increase. It's vital work that must be done, but it does impact on our budget. Taking away these costs as well as the waste levy, the rate rise comes in at 6.05%. Our neighbouring councils are considering rises of Knox (7.82%), Maroondah (9.8%) and Whitehorse (7.28%). Considering the particular demands in the Shire of Yarra Ranges we have tried very hard to keep the rate rise as moderate as we could.
Yarra Ranges has seen the Federal Government withdraw funding for our landcare officer, it's an important position that council thought was an imperative to continue for the community. To date our land care officer has been instrumental in providing training and support for a number of landholders, community groups and agricultural-based industries. Support has included running workshops, assisting with the development of property use plans - especially for horse properties. These plans focus on the health of the animals as well as the land. The officer has also worked with the nursery and berry industries to help secure about $500,000 in funding for land improvements. It wasn't the sort of program we'd back away from, unlike the federal government.
I continue to be appalled by the lack of funding from Vic Roads towards our school crossing supervisors. When the school crossings program first started in the 1970's Vic Roads contributed 70% of costs whilst councils put in 30%. Now we see the split completely reversed with council putting in 70% and Vic Roads contributing 30%. Yet another example of ongoing cost shifting to local government.
Every year we see the burden of library costs shift further to local government, yet another area where ratepayers are picking up the costs. Back in the 1970's costs for libraries were split 50/50 between state and local government, today we see council picking up 75% of the costs. This continual shifting of costs puts greater and greater burden on local government every year.
The latest example of cost shifting would have to be costs associated with Neighbourhood Safer Places. On one site alone in Yarra Ranges council would have to spend $100,000 to get it up to scratch to comply as an NSP, yet we see in the most recent state budget the allocation of $500,000 to use across the state. It's a drop in the ocean and goes nowhere near helping local government with the costs of setting up and maintaining NSPs.
The Shire of Yarra Ranges council is committed to its community and continues to provide funding across a diverse range of services, but the continual shifting of costs makes the budget more and more challenging every year.
The budget is out for public comment, there's a lot of great initiatives in there, a full program of capital works to provide our community with facilities, footpaths and roads and additional initiatives to address our greenhouse gas emissions and assist the community to help reduce theirs. Council will consider any submissions to the budget and endorse it on 29th June, 2010.