Extra time to strike balance with budget

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THE state government has told Mornington Peninsula Shire it can take an extra two months to adopt its 2020/21 budget.

If the shire decides to accept the offer, the budget will now need to be adopted by 31 August instead of 30 June and the annual report by 30 November, instead of 30 September.

Last week’s announcement of extended times for adopting budgets by Local Government Minister Adam Somyurek appears to have caught the shire and other municipalities by surprise.

The new budget deadline came after the shire had released its draft budget for pubic comment by 23 April, with the budget scheduled to be considered at council’s 6 May meeting (“Budget balance to be hit by virus” The News 7/4/20).

Mr Somyurek said the “small change” in the budget’s deadline was made in response to requests from councils.

The draft budget released by the shire does not include any of the ongoing and extensive measures it has taken to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 (“Crisis backing for business” The News 31/3/20).

Under the draft budget property rates will rise by 2 per cent, in line with a cap imposed by the state government, providing the shire with $191.6 million towards an overall predicted income of $244.9m, $8m less than the previous year. Rural living rates will drop by 6 per cent.

Mr Somyurek’s municipal budgets’ announcement did not address calls by the state Opposition for councils to offer rate relief or a rate freeze “to distressed households right now”.

“The state government must help councils with any loss of revenue so that the important role of councils can continue uninterrupted during these unprecedented times,” the Opposition’s local government spokesperson Tim Smith said.

Mr Smith said municipalities were responding to COVID-19 pandemic “through emergency management provision”.

Mornington Peninsula Shire last week handed extra powers to CEO John Baker while reducing the number of scheduled council meetings (“CEO powered up for emergency” The News 7/4/20).

Mr Baker is now able to make some decisions usually made by councillors, although there are limits on the authority he has regarding spending and policy making.

First published in the Mornington News – 14 April 2020

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