Rates capping and service threats

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.

MELBOURNE CITY COUNCIL AMONG 21 SEEKING RATE CAP EXEMPTION

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.

CUTS, THREATS AND SPLURGES

KINGSTON

The threat: Considering ditching funding, including for SES

What they’ve spent: $340,000 on a Kingston Green Wedge Plan in 2014.

MORELAND

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.

HUME

Threat:Reviewing all services

Spent:$50,000 in 2014 on a piece of art made from old blackboards.


NORTHERN GRAMPIANS

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.

BOROONDARA

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.

DAREBIN

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.


GREATER DANDENONG

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.

BALLARAT

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.

YARRA RANGES

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.

CENTRAL GOLDFIELDS:

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. “