MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire’s Cr Hugh Fraser says a decision to rewrite the 2020-21 budget is a “disaster for the [peninsula’s] economy at this time”.
The shire’s annual budget is normally adopted by 30 June, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic the local government minister has set municipalities a new deadline of 31 August.
The draft budget includes $31.8 million in income from fees and charges, based on them being applied from 1 July. Individual fees were proposed to increase by about 3 per cent.
Officers estimate the shire would lose about $150,000 by delaying adopting the budget until 18 August.
Last month’s decision to dump the first draft budget followed a series of motions from Cr David Gill which included abolishing the rural living rate and excluding a fees and charges schedule (“Rural rate backflip” The News 30/6/20).
A new fees and charges schedule will be brought back to council’s 14 July meeting “for consideration”.
The budget decision also follows a plea from the shire for state and federal governments to finance a list of projects compiled after suffering “one of the heaviest hits to employment in the state” (“Shire seeks $320m rescue package” The News 22/6/20).
“For [the shire] to abort the draft budget at this late stage and readvertise another budget is a disaster for the Mornington Peninsula economy at this difficult time,” Cr Fraser said.
“It’s unprecedented [for the council] to readvertise the … budget.
“Just at a time when local government should be pushing out as much money as possible into the community, the effect of council’s resolutions is to significantly delay the rollout of council capital and other works and payments into the community.”
The proposed 2020-21 capital works budget is $52.5 million and the priority projects program is $4.3 million. ‘Big ticket’ capital works items include the Rosebud aquatic centre ($11.2 million in this year’s budget), road resealing and rehabilitation works ($4 million) and the Merricks station grounds master plan ($1.9 million).
Cr Fraser said there had been six months to decide the budget, including councillor briefings and two community consultations. “Council management have been at pains to afford every opportunity to all councillors to debate the scaled boat shed and bathing box charges and rural living rate – which the draft budget reduced by 50 per cent – before resolving to put the draft 2020-21 budget on public exhibition,” he said. “To bring these matters to a head in this way with notices of motion so late in the budget process is reprehensible. Alas, the election bell tolls loud indeed.”
The draft budget is open for public comment until Thursday 30 July, with council aiming to adopt the 2020-21 budget on Tuesday 18 August. It is available on the shire’s website, shire offices and libraries.
First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 7 July 2020