Whether it is an oversight or politically incited process, the current legislative inquiry into the rates capping policy has allowed more opportunities for councils and their peak bodies to engage in political leverage to:
Ratepayers Vic, via one of our members, presented insights of why do we have rates capping. The key contributing reason comes from councils’ common budgeting approach, which discourages collaborative community engagement and participation in budget planning. It is no wonder why ratepayers have no confidence that their councils are making the right financial decisions every year. This is how the budget planning process typically work in your council:
This process is the primary reason we have rates capping today. Moving to a participatory and zero based budgeting process will improve community confidence in council’s financial planning, while removing the need for rates capping.
It is better late than never. Finally, we have the Minister’s responses to last year’s conference’s attendees’ questions to the Minister. There had been a chance of senior staff in the Minister’s office, which partially contributed to the delay.
Click here to access the Q&A information.
The Herald Sun’s editor’s opinion column (15 Feb 2016) reported:
ANDREW JEFFERSON reporting in the Herald Sun (15 Feb 2016):
” COUNCILS are threatening to stop funding vital services provided by the State Emergency Service, childcare centres and school-crossing supervisors if their rates are capped.
But at the same time, they continue to splurge millions of dollars on curious projects.
Most of Melbourne’s 31 councils, and many regional councils, say State Government caps to limit rate hikes to inflation are unsustainable, and they are contemplating scrapping funding for what they consider “state” services.
But ratepayers, calling the threats unethical, are demanding councils control spending.
Rate rises will be capped at 2.5 per cent from July 1.
The Herald Sun has found:
KINGSTON, which is considering ditching SES funding, spent $340,000 on a Kingston Green Wedge Plan in 2014;
MORELAND is spending $73 million a year in wages for its 1000-strong workforce and last year splurged $2500 on a documentary on its $500,000 campaign with Yarra Council to halt the East West Link;
CENTRAL Goldfields, which is scrapping funding for SES units in Dunolly and Maryborough to save $26,000, spent $70,000 in 2012 to cover legal costs of a councillor found guilty of a conflict of interest;
HUME, which spent $50,000 on art made of blackboards in 2014, is reviewing services; and
NORTHERN Grampians, which sent ex-mayor Wayne Rice to China three years ago as part of a government trade mission, closed a childcare centre in Stawell in December.
The SES said Wellington, Central Goldfields, Mitchell, Campaspe, Buloke, Loddon, Darebin and Kingston had all flagged a review of support.
Other “state” services that councils are considering for cuts are home and community care, aged care, disability services, libraries, and maternal and child health services.
Moreland councillor Oscar Yildiz said the council would struggle to sustain all of its current 100-plus services. But he conceded council probably wasn’t as efficient as possible.
“I don’t want to see people lose their jobs, but I reckon I could save each council in Victoria about $20-30 million in efficiency savings,” he said.
Hume Mayor Helen Patsikatheodorou said council was reviewing all of its services.
“Over the years, we have been contributing more and more and receiving less and less from the state,” she said.
Boroondara, whose chief executive Phillip Storer earns up to $390,000, estimates the cost of school-crossing supervisors, maternal and child services, libraries and home and community care services in 2014/15 was $11.3 million.
Greater Dandenong Council chief executive John Bennie has said the “impact of successive years of rate capping will require us to reduce service levels in future years”.
But Ratepayers Victoria’s Chan Cheah said councils were playing a “blame game”.
“Using the safety of schoolchildren as budget negotiation tactics is not exactly ethical, and reveals a lot more about … governance quality in local government,” Ms Cheah said.
Northern Grampians Mayor Murray Emerson said councils got 3c in the tax dollar compared to states’ 16c and the Commonwealth’s 81c.
“For local government to be sustainable, this needs to change immediately. Each service this council provides has been subject to a stringent review, and services which are not the mandatory responsibility of council will (be) subject to a subsidy decrease,” he said.
Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins said councils had the capacity to tighten their belts and she would be surprised if any stopped funding popular local services.
The threat: Considering ditching funding, including for SES
What they’ve spent: $340,000 on a Kingston Green Wedge Plan in 2014.
Threat:Reviewing all services
Spent:$73 million a year in staff wages in 2015 and splurged $2500 on a documentary glorifying its $500,000 campaign with Yarra Council to halt the East West Link.
Threat:Reviewing all services
Spent:$50,000 in 2014 on a piece of art made from old blackboards.
The cut:Closed a child care centre in Stawell in December
Spent: Sent former mayor Wayne Rice to China three years ago as part of a government trade mission.
Threat:Estimates the cost of providing school crossing supervisors, maternal and child services, libraries, and home and community care services on behalf of the state in 2014/15 was $11.3 million.
Spent:Chief executive officer Phillip Storer is one of the highest earning in the state with salary up to $390,000 a year.
Threat:SES says the council is considering ditching funding, council says it’s analysing the impact of rate capping.
Spent: $100,000 taxpayer-funded grant aimed at countering violent extremism among Muslims to help deal with traffic issues during the religious festival of Ramadan.
Threat:Warns successive years of rate capping will require it to reduce service levels in future.
Spent:$486,332 on parking ticket machines across Dandenong in 2014, which were later vandalised.
Threat:Says rate capping may influence decision making in the future.
Spent: Staff gorged their way through almost $30,000 worth of cakes and slices between 2012 and 2014.
Threat:Says long term rate capping could force it to prioritise services.
Spent:Ratepayers forked out $8000 last year for councillor Fiona McAllister’s childcare fees, including bills for a private carer.
The cut:Scrapped funding for two SES units in Dunolly and Maryborough from July to save $26,000
Spent: $70,000 in 2012 to cover the legal costs of a councillor found guilty of conflict of interest.
SES staff fear for the future
STATE Emergency Services staff say they fear for the future of the vital service if councils ditch funding.
It comes as a fight is brewing over the future of crossing supervisors.
Wellington, Central Goldfields, Mitchell, Campaspe, Buloke, Loddon, Darebin and Kingston have all flagged a review of SES support.
SES Maryborough controller Jesse Wright said he was “pretty concerned” about the branch’s future.
“Our volunteers train for 48 weeks of the year but are we now going to ask them to spend that time shaking donation tins, as well?” he asked.
Central Goldfields, which has ditched SES funding, is also in “serious discussions” with local schools and VicRoads about whether it could continue to fund school crossing supervisors.
“I’m extremely sympathetic to the SES but we don’t subsidise the CFA or Ambulance Victoria, so why should we pay for the SES?” Mayor Geoff Lovett said.
Several rural councils are considering following Northern Grampians Shire, which pulled the plug on school crossing supervisors to save $45,000 a year. “
Journalist Andrew Jefferson’s story is a hilarious ripper (Herald Sun, 15 Feb 2016):
“A person dressed up as a banana forced a council meeting to be abandoned.
Last night’s (Monday) Mitchell Shire Council meeting was interrupted by a large banana entering the council chamber towards the end of the meeting.
The banana handed out bananas to members of the gallery and councillors.
Mayor Sue Marstaeller was not amused and after a struggle closed the meeting.
An onlooker, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was the strangest thing he had ever seen at a council meeting.
“It was quite comical when a person in a banana suit started handing out bananas but the mayor failed to see the funny side,” he said.
The banana entered the chamber just as the council’s councillor expenses policy was about to be discussed.
Cr Marstaeller was involved in controversy in January when she took the mayoral car to Coffs Harbour, which features the big banana as an icon, over Christmas.
Cr Marstaeller said she was not impressed by the sudden nterruption.
“It was pretty disrespectful,” she said.
“I asked this person to stop but they continued to hand out bananas to people so I was left with no choice but to adjourn the meeting.”
Last night’s meeting has been rescheduled until next Monday.
The banana escaped out of council chambers into a waiting car.”
Hello, happy new year and trust everyone had a great festive holiday.
It was a great finish to 2015 – the year of great milestones, when Ratepayers Victoria (RV) was able to accomplish several great achievements for Victorian ratepayers and residents.
We successfully engaged with the Local Government Minister (Natalie Hutchins) and Shadow Minister (David Davis) , Local Government Victoria (LGV) and Essential Services Commission (ESC) to advocate for rates capping, which is now in the LG Act, effective for next financial year’s council budgeting. RV was invited to be on the Fair Go Rates committee, a new precedent where ratepayer representation is made official in a state’s LG program committee.
We also hosted a successful seminar in November 2015, which was over booked, and well commended by attendees, including the Minister and guest speakers. For the very first time, we had able to have a LG Minister engaged in conversion with a state-wide group of ratepayers about local issues and the opportunities for reform. The Minister confirmed what we already have experienced, that current LG system is broken, hence enabling many councils and MAV to breach compliance and good governance with little penalty consequences. That would change with the Minister’s new program for improving the LG Act and other associated laws. RV also worked with a few groups, to submit a response to the LG Act review, which is now published as item 191 in http://www.yourcouncilyourcommunity.vic.gov.au/submission. Many ratepayer attendees has asked the Minister questions. These questions have been passed to the Minister’s staff in December and indicative responsive time is between late January and before February. For those who provided an address, the answers would be posted. Regardless, when RV receive the Q&A, we will publish them online on our website and send our network members email notifications.
LGV has released the https://knowyourcouncil.vic.gov.au/ website – a great resource for ratepayers and investors to know about the profiles and performance of all 79 Victorian councils. This website uses performance indicators linked to an important performance management standard, called the Local Government Performance Reporting (LGPRF). LGV plans to further improve this standard, to increase more transparency and accountability through reporting councils’ performance in different and high impact areas. RV is once again invited to sit in the LGPRF committee, to help improve the performance indicators and reporting. For more information about the LGPRF program – click here.
Several projects in the planning pipeline are now ear-marked for project development. The first two projects commencing in Q1, 2016 are:
Monitoring and reporting the quality of community engagement councils delivered as part of their application process for requesting capped rate variations. We will be releasing a survey and social media conversations about how local communities evaluate their council’s community engagement in compliance to the ESC guidelines, especially the community engagement reference guide. You and other locals play an important role in reporting how well your council has engaged with your community in explaining why they need to increase next years’ rates above the capped levels, what alternative trade-offs they have considered and the quality of public information they openly shared with you. RV will email you once we set up this new Fair Go Rate Monitoring and Reporting (FGRMR) system. You can preview a prototype in progress and give us feedback via firstname.lastname@example.org – click here to access the test system.
RV is now operating as a 21st century networked organisation of connected ratepayers and residents advocating for better good governance and service performance in all Victorian councils. To do that advocacy role effectively and sustainably, we aim to increase local presence and impact in every municipal city. We are now asking people in our networks if they would like to become RV ambassadors in their own cities. You have to be a group, either already incorporated or we can setup your group as a chapter in RV incorporated. Knox Ratepayers Association (KRA) and Monash Ratepayers Incorporated (MRI) has formally merged to form a regional Eastern Ratepayers (ER) Incorporated entity and continue to operate KRA and MRI operations independently as two separate chapters. The immediate benefits are that they reduce governance and administration, can share knowledge, resources and specialisations and leverage a wider, stronger and higher impact advocacy base to address common and local issues. ER is also working with Casey Ratepayers and Residents Association as an affiliate. Let us know if you would like to be a local RV ambassador in your area – email us at email@example.com .
During the year, we will update you with these projects’ progress and several other new ones currently in the planning pipeline. Have a successful 2016 year with your advocacy work and making LG a better collaborative system for all community, council and state government agency stakeholders.
President Ratepayers Victoria.
Reforms are coming to the Local Government (LG) sector in Victoria. A major activity towards LG reforms is reviewing the present LG Act and restructuring it for re engineering better and community centered councils for us.
This morning, RV just submitted a response to this review. We thank members of our network who also submitted their responses, making sure changes to the Act will be more ratepayer and community centric.
If you want an official reference that confirms the current shortfalls in the LG system, refer to the http://www.yourcouncilyourcommunity.vic.gov.au/discussion-paper for details.
In the submission, we made the analogy that the LG Act is like an operations handbook for councils. It is purposed to support the State Government (LG Minister) oversee and harmonise the 79 councils’ operations, to ensure peace, order and good government for all Victorians.
A legislated council handbook does not mean the councils are 79 mini autonomous State Ministry entities having all and delegated powers to provide municipal services to Victorians. They were and are never the third tier of legitimate government in Australia and should never seek future referendums to become one. Because they are just body corporate entities of the Victorian LG Ministry.
RV used a system reengineering approach to review the LG Act and recommend ideas to make it a better organised, 21st century relevant, and best practice oriented operating handbook. We understand that this handbook is for all councils to refer to and comply with, in order to perform their state-delegated governance and enterprise roles and functions, via municipal service provisioning. Because it is legislated, the Victorian Parliament will approve its contents and purposed uses and any of its future amendments will continue to be sanctioned through state law making procedures.
The submission discussed some ratepayers’ observations, case study exemplary and analytical commentaries about current gaps and reform ideas, which is useful for supporting the LG Act’s restructuring and contents development.
One behalf of Victorian ratepayers, Ratepayers Victorian would like to thank Minister Hutchins and her crew, other ALP MPs, Essential Services Commission (ESC) and Local Government Victoria (LGV) for making this happen. We also like to extend our appreciation to the opposition Shadow LG Minister Davis and other Liberal MPs, who put aside their political differences in the interest of all Victorian ratepayers first, and supported the bill to be passed.Unfortunately the Greens did not support the bill.
The rate capping policy (also called the Fair Go Rates system) is a major win and a Christmas present for ratepayers.
The bill bill was passed in the Legislative Council, becoming law after receiving Royal Assent. It will stop or reduce councils raising their rates above a cap, based on the Melbourne Consumer Price Index (CPI). It is one of the first of many reforms to come, which would benefit ratepayers.
Local Government Victoria is also giving ratepayers a Christmas present too, the Know Your Council website.
VICTORIANS will be able to keep a closer eye on their councils thanks to a new website allowing users to compare local government performance.
The Know Your Council site was launched last night and provides detailed records on every metropolitan, regional and interface council in Victoria.”People now have access to information on 66 key indicators including rates revenue, expenditure, missed bin collections and even the number of missing pets found.Data on roads, maternal and child health, food safety, aquatic facilities and libraries is also available” (Herald Sun Leader, 27 Nov 2015).
The Key Performance Indicators’ (KPI) measures in this website will help ratepayers use the information to check on the good governance, financial. asset and service management performance of their councils. This means the opportunistic councils would like it more difficult to bamboozle their communities with BS in justifying their preferred decision directions and future rate rises above CPI. It is worthwhile for active ratepayers to understand how these KPI works – the information is in the Local Government Better Practice Guide Indicator Workbook
The Essential Services Commission (ESC) will have greater oversight of council spending, playing an important role in ensuring ongoing compliance and monitoring of overall outcomes for communities. Ratepayer Vic and our networks will help ensure councils comply 110% to the policy – watch this space develops.
Like all other technological advancements, one can use, misuse or abuse social media. The rules are still developing, however lacking a common state wide guideline on social media use in local government can certainly lend itself to new abuse of good governance among councils and their peak bodies.
This is a an emerging good governance risk that every ratepayer group should be aware of, when their councils ramp their uses of social media. “Don’t be evil” was once the corporate value of Google and is no longer when Google began tracking users universally across all its services and did many unethical deals, to make its billions.
Social and other online media are great tools for engagement and two-way communication. Example of these tools include blogs, facebooks. twitter, youtube, instagram, linkedin groups, flicker and others such as Oursay. Without a common/statewide and good practice social media guidance put in place, these tools can also bring about significant risks when inappropriately used.
Social media is a double edge sword. It can foster and kill democratization. Social media creates coordinating networks. These networks of participatory citizens can empower collective social action and facilitate change – the process of democratisation. Repressive governments are becoming better at using social media to suppress dissent, to allow their agendas to pass. Evil groups such as IS are successfully using social media to motivate people to hate and kill.
We would like to hear of your stories of your councils’ social media uses, good and manipulated, for sharing with all ratepayers. Email us your story through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Monash ratepayers, our first case story is Monash Council.
Timeline 1: In 2014, individual Councillors decided to create their own personal social media resources, such as blogs. They dressed these tools up, as though they are official Monash Council social media resources. How can they do such thing, which is against good governance principles? Easy, not only because the LG system is broken, but also because the Monash Council did not have a social media policy, even to this day.
Timeline 2: On Nov 15 2015, a smart spark Mayor Klisaris announced in the local papers that council has decided to hire a communication expert to decipher planning jargon into ‘plain English’ (Monash Leader, 15 Nov 2015). Monash Council was “looking for a leading-edge and innovative communications expert to help the council explain proposed new planning zones to ratepayers…. and that the successful applicant must be a communications expert rather than possessing a town planning background.” (Herald Sun, 17 Nov 2015)
A few days later, Mayor Klisaris announced that the chosen “leading edge and innovative” communication expert was Oursay (Monash Leader, 19 Nov 2015).
Actually, Oursay is an Internet cloud based social media service provider. What is miscommunication mixup and bamboozle in Monash Council, partly also caused by lacking technology literacy among its decision makers, notably its Councillors.