Maribyrnong City Council’s COVID-era budget distributes more than half its rates revenue to fewer than 700 citizens…...who are not suffering from financial hardship.
The Comprehensive Income Statement in the approved budget shows Council is intending to raise $105.6m from rates…..and $54.6m will be spent on wages.
That’s just over half the rates revenue being spent on wages. In March there were 643 staff on the Council payroll, so fewer than 700 people are getting the lion's share of ratepayer revenue.
These staff are not in danger of losing their jobs. They are not even in danger of pay freezes.
They are getting all their normal pay rises this year of 2.4%, which is above the annual March quarter CPI increase of 2.2% (pre-Covid impact.)
The Council CEO didn’t ask staff if they were willing to freeze their pay this year, or cut back their hours, so Council could have more money to spend on hardship relief for those who need it.
And ratepayers will need hardship relief, because despite the 0% rates increase, rates will still go up for residential ratepayers in five of the eight suburbs.
The ratepayers hardest hit live in Kingsville where the average rate increase will be 5.2%.
In response to the financial hardship households are suffering, Council is allowing residents to defer their rates - so they can pay double next year.
How did this happen? It happened because the Local Government Minister and Local Government Victoria pushed an expensive Local Government Act into Parliament and then the ALP and Liberal MPs in parliament all passed it.
Under the Local Government Act’s Section 48 the CEO gets to appoint as many staff as required. And although Clause 46 that says the CEO is responsible for the effective and efficient operations of Council guess who decides what’s efficient? The CEO. Not the Councillors. Not the ratepayers.
Council will say that staff are necessary to supply services to the Community. It's hard to tell exactly how many staff actually do work that residents need. But Governance does not serve the community - it provides admin for Council and the state government. The one thing that might be useful for the community - the agendas for the Council meetings - aren't even published a week in advance.
The Planning Department spends most of its time enforcing State Government Planning Controls. Our $700,000 Special Projects Department does planning and lobbying at a ‘senior level’ which is what I expected our $340,000 CEO and his Directors would do.
And the CEO, Directors, Managers and Councillors also failed to take a pay freeze or a pay cut in the current Council budget.
And staff aren’t the only cost for ratepayers anyway. On top of the 51% of revenue spent on staff, there’s also consultants and contractors. But there's no detail in the Financial Statements or the Budget, of how many consultants or contractors, or what services are outsourced.
One of the key functions of Council, the weekly garbage collection, is actually done by contractors paid for by a waste charge levied on top of rates. I only know this from attending Council meetings.
Contractors' services funded by rates include tree-planting, fixing roads, building maintenance, parks and gardens maintenance and sporting ground planning and maintenance. I only know this by closely reading Council budgets and Council agendas.
Maribyrnong Council's budget shows various departments claiming to provide these services...and yet Council has to acquire extra funding from ratepayers because somehow, Council can't manage the $54.6m worth of staff resources to meet its service requirements.
All this mis-management at Council level is caused by neglect at the state level.
It is the result of neglect by every single MP who voted for the Local Government Act 2020. Because the Act legislates profligate spending on staff and consultants with no benchmarks for guidance and almost no powers for Councillors or residents to impose limits or penalties on their local CEO.
The main power Councillors have to prevent mis-management, is to sack the CEO. The main power Councillors have to discipline Directors and Managers who over-spend is to sack the CEO.
The main power residents have is to vote in Councillors every four years who will sack the CEO.
The continuing above-CPI increases in rates and charges, the continuing eyesore high-density developments and the continuing disdain for resident approval demonstrates Councillors and staff are abusing their powers to help themselves, not their community.