THE economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is being felt at all levels of Australian government, with Mornington Peninsula Shire factoring in revenue losses of $9.4 million.
In his introduction to the shire’s 2019-20 annual report CEO John Baker refers to “operational savings” of $3m, $1.4m saved by not filling staff vacancies and cuts of $1.7m to materials and services.
“The shire itself has not been immune from the financial impacts of COVID. Modelling suggests non-rate income could be reduced by around $6 million,” Mr Baker states.
Without providing actual figures, Mr Baker says that both he and the then mayor, Cr Sam Hearn voluntarily took pay cuts. In Cr Hearn’s case it was 20 per cent for several months of his estimated $100,000 allowance and for Mr Baker “a substantial reduction in my own salary”.
The shire’s total income exceeds $255m, with $179m being raised through rates and $6.7m through fines and charges.
Expenses are more than $233m, with salaries making up $77m.
The shire’s loans increased to $34.8m after borrowing $26.5m for Yawa Aquatic Centre at Rosebud, while it made $3.8m in principal payments.
“We achieved a surplus of $22.1 million in 2019-20, consistent with last year’s surplus of $23.8 million,” Mr Baker said.
“We have remained financially strong with a sound balance sheet and cash holdings of $80.3 million. Capital works expenditure increased from last year’s total of $58.7 million to $66.1 million, with a focus on the new and renewal of assets.”
In his foreword to the annual report Cr Hearn said predictions that the peninsula would suffer one of the heaviest hits to employment in Victoria as a result of the pandemic were accurate.
“This includes close to 6000 job losses, a 21 per cent fall in gross regional product – compared with a 6.9 per cent drop for Australia overall – and an 11 per cent drop in employment opportunities,” Cr Hearn said.
“To counter this, we worked quickly to identify a package of shovel ready local projects, worth $320 million, aimed at kick starting our economic recovery and our community with much-needed employment.
“These projects will create over 4770 jobs and we continue to urge the state and federal governments to support these projects. Council is playing its part by committing $150 million in funding for shovel ready projects across the two financial years this pandemic has impacted.”
However, there is doubt over most of the projects as they require finance from both state and federal governments.
The fedearal government – through Flinders MP Greg Hunt – has promised money but shortfalls from the state exist for the Somerville to Baxter of the bay trail ($4.2m needed); Southern Peninsula Youth Hub ($9m); Alexandra Park, Mornington ($2.5m); the intersection of Forest Drive and Uralla Road, Mount Martha; the Jetty Road, Rosebud overpass on the Mornington Peninsula Freeway; and sound barriers on the freeway.
Nepean MP Chris Brayne told The News that the state government had this year provided $58.4m for 10 projects in Western Port and on the southern peninsula, but said most of the shire’s “shovel ready” projects were in the Mornington and Hastings electorates “and would refer them to the local members for those areas”. Both seats are held by Liberals, David Morris (Mornington) and Neale Burgess (Hastings).
Mr Brayne said he would continue to work with Mr Hunt on projects within his electorate of Nepean.
Mr Baker said the “extraordinary year [July 2019 – June 2020 had created] tremendous challenges requiring a dramatic shift in the way we work”.
The shire’s emergency management plan had been activated twice: To help transport Mallacoota bushfire evacuees from Hastings and HMAS Cerberus to an emergency relief centre at Somerville Recreation Centre and shortly after to cope with the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“Like most businesses and community organisations across the nation, our services were significantly impacted by government restrictions to contain the virus and we had to adapt rapidly to new realities,” he said.
Nearly 3200 care packages were delivered under a program eventually “transitioned” to community support and information centres regular and welfare checks were made with phone calls to 5000 community care clients.
A business support package included putting $500,000 “back into the business community”, a business concierge service, fast tracking of approvals and compliance matters, a temporary end of fees and charges, support for contractors and rate and rent relief options for tenants in council properties.
Mr Baker thanked the efforts of the more than 2200 volunteers involved in shire activities.
Achievements listed in the annual report include building the Yawa Aquatic Centre at Rosebud (“on budget and on track for project completion March next year”); starting a two-year trial of reducing speed limits to 80kph on 38 “high risk” roads; launching the Better Buses campaign; succeeding in delaying by six months the federal government’s plan to close the Mornington Centrelink office; developing a Beyond Zero Waste Strategy and Single-use Plastics Policy; limiting waste being taken to landfill; drafting a Climate Emergency Plan – Ensuring Our Future; adopting a gender equality strategy, Neighbourhood Character Study and Coastal Villages Strategy; and working with Maritime Safety Victoria to ensure jet skis were used safely on the peninsula.
Mornington Peninsula Shire’s 2019–20 Annual Report can be downloaded at mornpen.vic.gov.au/annualreport.
First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 22 December 2020