It is time to get serious with the Goodwood Oval Grandstand.

Everyone knows we received a $ 2.5 m grant prior to the last election for the Goodwood Oval Grandstand. This was courtesy of the previous State Government and the work of our new Badcoe Member of Parliament, Jayne Stinson.

This means it was time to get serious. As a result we sought design input from our community.

Goodwood Oval GrandstandI moved a motion to this effect at last week’s council meeting because it is time to get serious.

The motion ensures our communities input is included in the design to presented to our Council Assessment Panel for approval. It also recognises that we have some work still to do to ensure we provide the facilities that will accommodate the storage needs of both resident clubs.

To achieve the above I moved an amended motion to that recommended by our administration. They drafted a motion that accurately I believe reflects the input we received from our community.

The recommended motion can be found on page 97 of the agenda, which can be found here.

There remained however a missing element after the consultation. This was an understanding of the storage needs of the two clubs.

There is storage that can be accommodated in the grandstand. There is however equipment that cannot be stored in this environment without either increasing its footprint and/or the impact of 2 storey cost implications. I talk of equipment such as pitch covers, practice netting, bowling machines, bowlers matting. I also talk of the manual roller and the goal posts that are currently stored outside.

The amendment replaced item 4 (b) and 4 (c) with the following:

4. Provision of external storage:

a) The proposed storage facility on Fairfax Avenue not proceed.
b) The detail design process further engage with the Goodwood Saints
Football Club and the Goodwood Cricket Club to identify their
storage needs, with a view to providing the required storage capacity
within the Grandstand and/or adjacent ancillary buildings (including
potential extension of an ancillary building).

Next step in the time to be serious

It is time to be serious about developing a final design. A design to present to our Council Assessment Panel  for development approval.

It will be a cat 3 application because it is sighted in the Residential Historic Conservation zone. Our community will therefore get another opportunity to provide input.

Highlights of draft City of Unley 2018/19 Budget.

While limiting the likely rate increase to 2.8% (including a 0.3% allowance as our best guess as to what the China rubbish crisis may inflict on us), the City of Unley 2018/19 Budget is achieving great things for our community.

Balancing Budget

Council is embarking on some major projects. Projects that will benefit future generations of Unley. Given this and in keeping with our policy on Capital Works we will be taking out loans to fund the balance after some successful grant applications. By so doing they will have a minimal effect on the rate rise in the Unley 2018/19 Budget.

The proposed New Capital Projects total $8.321M net and include:

  • King William Road Streetscape project $2.25M, with a further $5.5M to be spent in 2019-20.
  • Implementation of the local area traffic management study for Parkside and Fullarton $215K.
  • Continued implementation of Council’s Cycling and Walking Plan. Year 3 totalling $180K, focussed on the King William Road intersection with Simpson Parade and King William Road from number 29 to Greenhill Road.
  • Unley Oval Grandstand upgrades. Includes Female Change Rooms, and accessible canteen area stage 1 of a 2 year project, with a total net cost of $1.5M.
  • Goodwood Grandstand. $1.8M for year 1 of a  2 year program, at a total cost of $3.6m.
  • Brown Hill Keswick Creek project of $1.5M.

Capital Replacement Program

The proposed Capital Replacement Program of $7.627m net has been based on current asset information and asset management plans. Items include:

  • $1.127M for the proposed road reseal program;
  • $1.041M for the footways renewal program;
  • $872K for drains and stormwater;
  • $883K for the Property Program; and
  • $493K for reserves, recreation and open space projects.

A copy of the Capital Replacement Program providing more detail can be found on pages 81 thru’ 91 of the Draft 2018-19 Annual Business Plan.

As I indicated in my recent blog you can contribute your thoughts on the inclusion of these projects in the City of Unley 2018/19 Budget.

Our 2017/18 Budget: a win for those in Our Community who contributed to the process.

After the most significant contribution from our community in who knows how long Council has determined its budget for 2017/18. A win for those in our Community who contributed to the process.

 

As I suggested in my blog post entitled “Please Stay with Us” the contribution from our community has seen positive results. Many initiatives suggested have now been included in the budget.

Those that have not have been earmarked for council to contemplate as projects later in the year. Should any of those projects receive council endorsement we will need to include them in one of our quarterly budget reviews.

The inclusion of the extra initiatives has seen the rate increase lift from 2.8 % to 2.9%.

The significance of this budget is the expectation that some of those projects we have been contemplating since before I joined Council may occur sooner rather than later. This includes:

  • the start of the Brownhill Creek Flood Mitigation project,
  • the redevelopment of the Unley Oval grandstand. This will be the culmination of a number of improvements at that ground.
  • Possible commencement of the Goodwood Oval and the Millswood Sporting Reserve,
  • Possible commencement of the redevelopment of King William Road between Arthur Street and Mitchell/Park Streets.

A win for those in our community who contributed to the process.

It will also see something I have been championing since my early days on Council. That is an improvement in service standard in the reactive maintenance of our footpaths.

Of course, we have also had to pass on a 9% increase in the NRM levy that Councils are forced to collect on behalf of the government. Our rate payers are contributing the equivalent of 3.1% of our rate-able income. That is a whopping (in excess of) $ 1.2 m. And we are collecting $ 38.3 m in rates.

If you want to know more about what the budget includes you can check it out here.

Welcome to Our World.

Following on from my last blog post, there are two observations I believe warrant making in this platform. The first is welcome to our world and please stay with us.

I will deal with the latter in a later blog post.

With some of the observations that our ratepayers have made on this years draft budget I say welcome to our world. You are experiencing what we (the councillors) experience each year.

Elected members historically focus only on new initiatives in our budget deliberations. New initiatives in the operating projects amount this year to $ 1.2 m. This is very small compared to our general rates income of some $ 38 m.

Ongoing operating programs are reviewed regularly by elected members during what is known as regular service reviews. They are therefore not addressed at budget time . This includes a number of initiatives in our environment strategy.

Things like maintaining our parks and gardens. That includes the Village Green. So while we have been criticised by some for not allowing maintenance of the Village green in our budget we have. It just is not highlighted. Showing the maintenance of every one of our parks and gardens woudl make for a very complex budget and therefore not shown.

Then there are new initiatives such as the Brownhill Creek flood mitigation project, funded through capital works and loan funding. The biggest single environmental project I suggest we have ever done.

Talking roads, rates and rubbish which some have asked us to focus on. We have been asked to spend more in this area. After a service review we will actually be spending some $ 1.0 m pa more on reactive footpath repair. Requests to resurface Kenilworth Road. It is in the budget.

Yes. Welcome to our world.

We elected members focus on just 1/40th of the overall budget. You get to comment on that too.

This is not easy for sure but please stay with us. If you do you will become more intimate with the budget and it’s real depth.

Proud of our Community’s contribution to determining our next budget.

Before this year I have not seen much interest from our community in setting our yearly budget. This year I can honestly say I am proud of our Community’s contribution to determining our next budget.

So why am I proud of our Community’s contribution to determining our next budget?

Previously we have seen only between one and four members of the public turn up to our information sessions. This year we had in excess of 25. Numerous requests and observations were received on our have your say site, or by email or letter. This has followed on from the keen interest our community showed recently in the Unley Central DPA.

We have always had good community consultation on all manner of things. For some reason we have not on the budget itself. As a result, I believed this to mean our Community were telling us that they have already had their say on the various projects. More to the point they were happy to leave it to us to determine the priorities.

With the Sword of Damocles of the State Liberals rate capping promise for the next election sitting over our heads our community did not focus on this. Their attention was focused in lieu on the priorities of programs in the draft.

A significant portion of the observations we received focused on:

  1. Our being too much a “happy city” focused on events.
  2. There being too much focus on what they see as favouring the Sturt Footy Club.
  3. A concern over the first two possibly contributing to a reduction in spending on environmental issues.

Whilst I am proud of our Community’s contribution to determining our next budget we are yet to see what impact it has. I believe we will see Council make some meaningful adjustments in response to our Community.

What do you want from Council

What do you want from Council in the next 12 months or even the next 4 years.

We are asking you to help us prioritise what Council does for you in the next 12 months and beyond. The first step was for us to prepare a draft Community and Business Plan, and accompanying budget for next year, which we have now done.

You have had and many of you have taken opportunity previously to help and guide us to design our individual programs.

The next step is for you to provide your input into how we should prioritise the many programs we have or envisage. We would dearly love to hear from you. Check out this video and be stimulated into giving us your thoughts as to how we should prioritise the many things we do.

For more detail and an opportunity to respond check the links below which from part of our Have Your Say webpage.

Draft Annual Business Plan and Budget 2017 – 2018

This sets out the program we expect to conduct over the next twelve months, including the budget.

Draft Community Plan and 4 Year Delivery Plan 2018 – 2021.

We have taken the opportunity to review our Community Plan. This review coincides with the development of a new 4 Year Delivery Plan which provides focus for priority in program delivery.

How to provide comment
Have your say by:

  • Providing feedback online at Your Say Unley
  • Sending a written submission to The City of Unley, PO Box 1, Unley SA 5061

Hard copies of the draft plans are available from the Unley Civic Centre, 181 Unley Road, Unley.

Public Meetings
Our staff will be available to discuss the draft plans with you at the following public information sessions:

  • Monday 15 May, 10.30 – 11.30am. Goodwood Library, 101 Goodwood Road, Goodwood
  • Tuesday 16 May, 2 – 3pm. Fullarton Park Community Centre, 411 Fullarton Road, Fullarton
  • Wednesday 24 May, 5.30 – 6.30pm. Unley Civic Centre, 181 Unley Road, Unley

So! What do you want from Council?

 

Using Loan Funding for Capital Works and Replacement

Council has long had a policy of using loan funding for Capital Works and Replacement. Doing so spreads the burden of capital expenditure over current and future rates.

Following on from my post introducing this years budget, if you look deeply into this years draft budget you will see that we are planning to have $15.7m of loans outstanding as at June 2018. This is $ 1.0m more than predicted for June 30 this year.

Our capital expenditure will actually grow by $ 3.5m during the next twelve months.

Most of this will be to fund our contribution to the Brownhill Creek Flood Mitigation Scheme. Part will be to fund the upgrade of the Goodwood Oval Grandstand. Part to provide detailed concept (project shovel ready) plans for the Goodwood Oval and Millswood Sport Grounds improvement plan. The Unley Oval improvement plan and the King William Road master plan will also be funded this way.

Whilst committing funds to these projects we will be paying back our current loans to the tune of $ 2.5m.

Loans of such magnitude can be frightening to some not personally used to loans of this size, including elected members. Having said that I remember when I first secured a home loan I could borrow 7 times my annual wage. Using that formula Council could conceivably borrow $ 280m.

That said this will not ever happen. We have a commitment to borrow no more than 80% of our net operating revenue (or approx $ 32m on today’s revenue).

Some might also suggest that we should not penalise future generations by burdening them with “such high” loans. If you have the cash to do this that is a reasonable observation.

The only way we could do this would be to increase the rates. If we did this to fund just $ 1.0m of capital expenditure we would need to increase rates in the order of 2.5%, nearly as much again as what we are currently proposing this year.

Council will continue therefore with a policy of using loan funding for Capital Works and Replacement.

DRAFT 2017-18 ANNUAL BUSINESS PLAN AND BUDGET OUT FOR CONSULTATION

Before Council settles on it’s 2017-18 Annual Business Plan and Budget we are looking for your input.

At last night’s Full Council Meeting we moved and approved that:

1. The report be received.
2. The proposed list of net Operating Projects of $1.232 m be endorsed for community consultation.
3. The proposed list of net New Capital of $3.790 m be endorsed for community consultation.
4. The proposed list of net Capital Replacement of $7.445 m be endorsed for community consultation.
5. The Draft 2017-18 Annual Business Plan and Budget be endorsed for the purpose of community consultation, to be conducted between 3 May and 26 May 2017.
6. The Chief Executive Officer be authorised to make any necessary minor edits required for consistency or clarity to the Draft 2017-18 Annual Business Plan and Budget, if required.
7. The community consultation process outlined in the report be endorsed.

I encourage you to examine the 2017-18 Annual Business Plan and Budget so that you may become familiar with what we are proposing. Tell us what you believe we should be doing; what services we have not included you believe we should include, those services we have included but you believe are not required; or what should be modified

The 2017-18 Annual Business Plan and Budget can be found here at page 19, item 832: It provides detailed information regarding the:

• proposed projects to be undertaken
• services provided by Council to the community,
• resources required by the City of Unley to deliver the services and projects, and
• funding required (proposed rates increase and estimated borrowings).

To deliver all proposed projects and maintain current service levels. We will require a rate increase of 2.8% and new borrowings in the order of $3.4 m

Please take the opportunity to examine the 2017-18 Annual Business Plan and Budget and provide us your observations.

Watch out for invitations to examine and observe in the following:

Advertising in the Eastern Courier Messenger

• Online consultation on Your Say Unley

• Notification on Council’s website with appropriate links to the Draft Annual Business Plan and Your Say Unley

• Advertising in the Unley Life Column

• Development of a video for social media and website (This is page 22 of the Council Agenda Reports for 24 April 2017)

Further, why not attend one of three public meetings/community information sessions. Timing is proposed as follows:

Goodwood Library 15 May 10.30am- 11.30am

Fullarton Park Community Centre 16 May 2 pm – 3 pm

Civic Centre 24 May 5.30pm – 6.30pm

State Government 2016-17 budget in black courtesy of Local Gov.

It has been just short of a week since the State Government 2016-17 budget was handed down. This was amid wide acclaim for bringing in a surplus that has previously escaped them. Thanks that is to councils and rate payers.

While the Treasurer trumps his State Government 2016-17 budget surplus of some $ 250 million many in the community are bemoaning council rate increases.

The facts are the State is doing well but mainly on the back of imposts and charges being collected via property taxes. Much of this is collected by Council.

Yes! As the Opposition promote rate capping because Councils can’t be trusted the state government, although ruling out a land tax, are using council rates as a stealth alternative.

Unprecedented increases in the Solid Waste Levy will see around $35 million per annum paid by councils by 2019/2020. This is despite the state government refusing to release $90 million of previously collected Waste Levy funding. More than a third of this was contributed by councils and rate payers. Councils have contributed $110 million to the Waste Levy over the past ten years and will contribute another $122 million to state government coffers over the next 4 years.

The state government is taking more and more property taxation – local government’s traditional and only tax base. The attached graph illustrates that the State is now raising 56% of property taxes to local government’s 44%. As I have noted in recent blog posts on rate capping less than 4% of tax nationally is collected by Councils. Adding to this state and federal budget decisions are squeezing council budgets from every direction and forcing ratepayers to pay more in rates.

20160714_133932[1]

State Government 2016-17 budget

Curiously the rebate offered by the Government last year in lieu of the rebate deducted from council rates previously, is offered to help you (if you qualify) with a subsidy to help pay such things as your water and other utility rates, but NOT council.

Budget Approved at 2.2%

After months of work and a seemingly never ending conversation Coucnil last night approved the 2016/17 budget.

 

imagesIn recent days that conversation became quite polarised with a small number of councillors pushing for a 2.7% increase. The change in the conversation during this time alarmed me in that there was no prerequisite to raise the rate increase we had worked on all that time. Just an arbitrary and without foundation we believe it should grow by 0.5%.

 

Thankfully Coucnil showed a maturity and demonstrated leadership by approving the 2.2% rate increase which had been nominated in our public consultation. A rate increase we had no fewer than 4 outside experts confirm as a responsible rate increase and a responsible and sustainable level of debt.

With the lowest rate rise in the time I have been on council I believe we have set a responsible and sustainable budget.

It includes from those of us who live in the west of Unley’s point of view the following:

      Councils contribution to the under-grounding of power lines @ $ 300,000 of Goodwood Road

      Upgrade of Goodwood Road streetscape and way finding @ $ 3.3 m (using loan funding)

      Continuation of the implementation of the King William Road Master Plan

      An increase in funding to address issues raised thus far in our LATM study

      $ 250,000 towards preliminary works on Brownhill Creek

      Safety road works around the Goodwood Primary School

      Footpath replacements in Laught Avenue Black Forest. The remainder of footpaths in the Clarence Park ward are scheduled for 2017/18 when the program terminates.

      Tennis Court resurfacing and fence repair at Page Park.

      A catch up of CPI for our community grants scheme.

      Fruit trees in Princess Margaret Playground

      Responding to tree risk assessment in Dora Guild Playground

In signing off I note that a 2.2% increase on annual rates paid say of last year at $ 1,600.00 equates to an increase of $ 35.00. This is of course subject to whether your homes value (as determined by the Valuer General) alters at the same rate as the combination of all properties in Unley. In other words there may be some variation to this.

The minimum rate will increase by $ 17.00 to $ 758.00

 

Lower Rate verses Lower loan funding the question in Unley’s budget

Council on Monday night will consider as part of the rate budget how much loan funding we should use to fund council programs.

 

loan approvedWhen we as individual property owners need to improve or redevelop our property we will be faced with how to finance any such project. Like I suggested in my last blog post he larger the project the more likely we are to finance it by way of loan funding. This is because the larger the project the more likely it is we cannot fund it without loan funding.

The same applies to council. Indeed I would suggest the longer a newly created or improved asset we purchase will live the more we should consider using loan funding for it.

If we build an addition to our home the chances are we are going to use loans to fund it, assuming we can service the loan. If we can’t service the loan we cant pay cash and we should not be undertaking the project. Coucnil does have an option though. Almost like winning the lottery and being able therefore to pay cash Council can pay for it now by simply saying to current rate payers we are going to lift your rates.

I put it that each component of that addition a home owner will do to their home will invariably be loan funded rather than by using cash. That means the curtains you might pay for by cash in a room in your existing house, or the re-tiling you might do in your existing bathroom, or the pergola you might put on the rear of your house will funded by loan funding if part of a larger/major redevelopment.

Councillors can be emotionally frightened of debt and that is to be expected and understandable. They are people just like you. They could easily take the increase the rates approach. Let’s face it (as noted above) we have a captive audience.

I for one am satisfied that the “curtains, tiles and pergolas” that have been included in larger projects like the Goodwood Road redevelopment and the Cycle Path can and should be included in the loan funding for those projects.

Why would we bother to pull them (things like street signs, line marking etc) out and pay cash for them. To pull them out and account for them separately will actually add to our administrative costs.

It is not a case in other words Lower Rate verses Lower loan funding but budgeting for the both today’s rate payer and tomorrows rate payer to contribute based on good financial management practices. Unless convinced otherwise on the night by alternate logic I will be staying therefore with loan funding as planned and with keeping your rate increase down to 2.2%.

2.2% or 2.7% rate increase or something else the question for council

Council sits on Monday night to consider our annual business plan and budget. The focus will be whether or we adopt a 2.2%, 2.7% rate increase or something else. That is the question for council.

Rate CappingAs mentioned in my last blog post Council up to now at least seems divided on what this years rate increase should be. You would be well aware by now that we have been long considering a 2.2% increase. Coupled with that is an intent to increase loan funding by $ 3.3m to fund long term projects.

We are likely to debate on the night increasing the rate increase the rate by 2.7% and reduce the increase in loan funding we have been considering.

The theory behind this is we should not be diverting funding of today’s projects to future generations. Put them in debt so we can enjoy now. Sounds a bit like the spend the kids inheritance now statement we are all familiar with. Having said that much of what we are contemplating is to the benefit of the future generations more so than it will be for the coming generation. The challenge then is to determine how much should be paid for now verses how much the next generation should pay for given projects.

As I see it Council is no different to our rate payers. Council has an annual income, so do we. The method of creating that income and the control over how much income can be achieved of course differs but I am not going to talk about that here. Council owns “real” assets (property, roads, footpaths, parks). So do we.

When we need to improve or redevelop our property we will be faced with how to finance any such project. The larger the project the more likely we are to finance it by way of loan funding. This is because the larger the project the more likely it is we cannot fund it without loan funding. The same applies to council. Indeed I would suggest the longer the life span of a newly created an asset we purchase the more we should consider using loan funding for it, unless of course we have won the lottery and can afford to pay cash.

If we build an addition to our home the chances are we are going to use loans to fund it, assuming we can service the loan. If we cant service the loan we cant pay cash and we should not be undertaking the project.

So….2.2% or 2.7% rate increase.

Manufacturing Rate Capping

In the background of the Liberal Party rate capping threat we see councils announcing low rate increases this year. The City of Adelaide leading the way with a nil increase in rates. Is the industry now guilty of manufacturing rate capping.

Unley too is looking at a low increase, possibly 2.2% which is still in excess of CPI.

downloadThe scribes have challenged Adelaide’s proposed nil increase in the wake of also proposing a significant increase in loan funding. From a distance I question whether they are doing the right thing or playing politics.

Unley too, from within, have been similarly challenged.

Are these and other councils it must be asked, at the stroke of a key on their keyboard, using loan funding to avoid excessive rate increases.

I hope not because this adds weight to the Liberals argument. I hope not because it may show how councils will work their budgets in the wake of the potential of rate capping under a liberal government.

Some may believe this to be the case and certainly at least one of my colleagues views it this way. Such is the case at Unley that we will be looking at two possible scenarios this coming Monday when we vote on this years coming rate rise.

We had long been looking, after much work shopping and wrangling over what should be included in our budget and what should not, at an increase of 2.2%. We are now being asked by some within to consider 2.7% and reducing loan funding. One of us may likely vote against both because he relives we should be raising the rate by I believe 5% or more rather than faking with loan funding.

The debate on the night will be interesting and you might find the Unley Civic Centre the place to be for some enlightenment and/or entertainment. The question to be answered on the night will be the Unley Council’s interpretation of the nexus between rates and loan funding, which of course must be funded out of the rates.

 

Is Rate Capping Sustainable

With the Liberal State Opposition declaring they intend to keep Council Rate Capping on the Agenda for next State Election I wonder what is their approach to ensuring Councils remain sustainable?

 

In this my second blog post on the question of rate capping I ask the question how the Libs expect Councils to be sustainable.

Rate CappingKeeping rates as low as possible is a goal to strive for. They must on the other hand be struck at a level that can sustain the councils obligations to their community as defined in the Local Government Act and beyond. I say beyond because State Governments have a tendency to shift services they provide to councils.

They do this without legislating a means by which the service can be funded by Councils. This amounts to the Government cost shifting these services to councils. For instance we are regularly being asked to more in the health arena.

We have rate capping in other forms already imposed on Councils that are subsidized by rate payers. One such area is the cost to process development applications which Councils are required to do under the Development Act. As someone involved in the building industry I have long been aware that councils cannot cost effectively process development applications, particularly to the vast majority of applications they receive. These are for minor developments such as house additions, verandahs, swimming pools and the like.

The fees simply do not cover the cost of the smaller project and as a result you, the rate payer, pick up the tab.

Our Mayor has voiced his support for rate capping but if you read through his blog you will see he has raised the spectre of Councils finding other income sources. His thoughts can be found on his personal blog page here. They are astute observations but I venture to suggest we have a horse and cart thing here. What comes first.

Looking at other sources of revenue is a good idea but in my opinion this must come well before rates are capped or otherwise interfered with. As a public entity we must be very discerning about from where we might derive additional income to rates. Having said that the Government of the day could seriously take pressure off rates by ensuring that councils are fairly compensated for other activities they are required by statute to undertake, like the example given above.

Rate Capping Stays on the Agenda.

Their rate capping motion soundly beaten in the Parliament this week the Libs have declared they will make rate capping an election issue come March 2018. In other words Down but not Out.

Rate Capping

 

 

Are you burdened by taxes and looking for relief? If so I ask you where you think the relief should come from. Council Rates are an obvious target because they are an in your face tax. It is an annual bill you see and act on.

But is it truly the way to achieve tax relief?

This is the 1st in my efforts to address these questions.

Do you realise that taxes raised by local government accounts for only 3% of taxes raised in Australia. Surely if you want to lighten the tax burden would you not look at the larger taxes. A 10% saving in other words in council rates across the country amounts to a saving of but 0.3% of the countries tax take.

The Libs of course are maintaining that your rates should come under the same scrutiny as the State Parliament. I ask them is this a desirable replacement for the current system wherein YOU DO get a chance to have a say, and twice. Is it more appropriate that a body such as ESCOSA who have overseen extreme increases in water rates and power over the last 10 years.

I put it to all who care that ESCOSA will not necessarily keep rates down as evidenced by the increases in the state utilities over the last decade. If the Utility can convince ESCOSA that a large increase is justified then so too can councils.

Unless the Libs in Government intend to take away your right to have a say the costs of producing a budget will increase as Councils provides both you and ESCOSA an opportunity to contribute.

But only 3 or 4 people I hear from the media and the Libs attend a Council budget public forum and they are not listened too. Speaking for myself they are listened to.

This is what I have heard this year about the budget we will be voting on in Coucnil this month. The public this year has focused on the value of just one, yes one, project which will commit us if proceeded with to an investment of just $30,000.00, or 0.08% of your rates. And the feedback an overwhelming support for the project.

I said earlier you get two goes. New initiatives in our budget are put before the public not only at budget time but are put to the public by way of a specific public consultation.

This project I expect to be included in our budget. Will it happen. Don’t know and the elected members should wait to see what the public will want when it goes out to consultation as a project later this year. And when it does we may actually get a 100 or more from the immediate area impacted by the project have their say; a far cry from the few who responded to the budget consultation.

Other projects included have already been the subject of specific public consultation.

As we sit on the last Monday of this month therefore I will be voting on the budget confident that it does actually have the support of our rate payers.

 

Rate Capping by ESCOSA or Rates determined by Elected Members

 Does the Liberal State Opposition believe Councils are incapable of running a tight budget?

 

Budget balancing

Following on from my previous blog posts on rate capping I ask the question whether the Libs believe that Councils are spending the rates they collect from you frivolously or not. Do they believe they are incapable of keeping rates at an appropriate level.

Keeping rates as low as possible is absolutely a goal to strive for.

I honestly believe that with the Sword of Damocles by way of elections  forever hanging over the heads of elected members they are only too conscious of having such a focus. Indeed does this not make them the most suitable candidates for keeping a lid on rate increases.

If the ratepayers are not happy with the rate rises or believe they are not being corrected directed toward services they want they will soon vote an elected member out. This they cannot do that with the members of ESCOSA should they oversee council budgets and rate rises.

Elected members must on the other hand be forever conscious of maintaining the infrastructure of the Council region and for maintaining the services the community has come to expect from them. They must be prepared to show leadership and ensure these services are not only maintained but improved.

They likewise need to be aware of or predict what services the community does not currently have that they might benefit from. And what of those the community will in the future expect.

Such projects/services will always be the subject of community consultation. Many projects included in a budget will already have been out to the public for consultation and the elected members therefore quite aware of the communities position in respect of them. Others like the one mentioned in my last blog will be included in the budget and then get consulted on. Some of these projects may not happen and any budget allocation covering this allocated elsewhere or used to reduce debt.

 

And I know I am right.

And I know I am right is how Cr Michael Hudson from our Parkside Ward sums up a recent blog post on his Grumpy In Unley website on our current proposed rate rise.

 

Consistent to his views in the time I have been on council and I suspect way before I joined council he believes that Council is always exposing itself to too high a level of debt. As reported in this week’s Eastern Courier he made sensational claims at last weeks council budget meeting of us “cooking the books” in order to look good by keeping the current rate increase low.

Before going to bed he wrote a blog which you can read here. https://grumpyinunley.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/unleys-rates-rise-maze/.

dollar-sign-on-treadmillExpecting a backlash from Council in that blog he indicated that he will use the defence of truth to justify his outburst and subsequently leaving the room. “His” truth as identified earlier in this blog.

It is unfortunate that “grumpy” as he likes to be called left the meeting. By doing this he failed in my opinion to meet his obligation to you to vote on the budget and what goes out to public consultation.

It is unfortunate also that he was not in attendance at two meetings convened earlier this year to hear from an independent consultant who we commissioned to provide opinion on our financial status and management.

Councillors as a group are far from financial wizards. Hearing from an independent expert in the field was an opportunity I for one was happy to embrace. Having said that I was pleased to receive congratulations from this expert that we are financially sound and are managing our assets well. His take on our finances helps me to make a decision with more confidence than I otherwise would.

We, or at least I, were reassured that our policy of always using loans to fund capital works is appropriate. I was also reassured that our level of debt, based on recognised accounting practices, is appropriate. The independent members of our audit committee who are well respected in the financial industry are likewise supportive of our approach. I expect they would feel Grumpy’s comments are an unwarranted and unfair blight against their reputation.

Grumpy is right that our level of debt is budgeted to increase and up some $ 5m in the last 3 years from $ 8m to $ 13 m. Notably the work scheduled for Goodwood Road to take advantage of the current State Government PLEC works takes up $ 3.3m of this. Also notable is the advice we received from the independents noted above that our self imposed maximum lending rate of 80% of rate income (which equates to $ 30m, double our current projections for debt limits in the ensuing years) is an appropriate and manageable limit. Curiously the chart he uses to back up his argument also shows our debt this year is budgeted to be leas than it was 10 years ago, and next year marginally above it.

Finally; the annual business plan and the financing of that plan including a proposed 2.2% rate increase is available for you to look at and comment on. The opportunity for the issue of debt to be robustly discussed both internally and within the community is available now as it goes out for public consultation. This is your chance to contribute to ensuring the rate increase we are proposing is appropriate or not, and that our debt level you can accept or not.

Waiting for your input once the consultation is up on our website.

And that is my truth, and I know I am right.

 

 

 

 

To Cap Council Rates or not-that is the question.

As I sit down tonight and over the weekend to deliberate on the agenda of a special council meeting set for next Wednesday night that is the question I ponder. Whether there is a justification for an outside body to cap Council rates or not.

This meeting has been called outside our normal schedule of council meetings because it is that time of year again. The time when we start to consider our draft annual business plan and budget.

Goyder - Steven GriffithsThe time when media attention is focused on rate increases and curiously not annual business plans. It has come early this year with the private members bill by the Hon. Steven Griffiths on rate capping tabled in State Parliament.

We heard from politicians, from experts and the public itself.  There may be a reasonable argument for rate capping and it is appropriate that we have a discussion about it. Is the debate I ask focusing on the real issue though?

I suggest it is not so much rate increases and whether they are too great or not but the manner in which they (but more importantly) the annual business plan they represent are endorsed. The LGA have argued against a body such as ESCOSA overseeing rate increases and that the current realm of public consultation is better.

I am not convinced using ESCOSA is an economically viable approach to ensuring rates are kept in balance. Why? This adds yet another layer of bureaucracy that has to be paid for, probably via the rates. It will likely increase the cost to council too because now they will have to prepare an annual presentation to ESCOSA as well as the public. That is of course unless the bill seeks to exclude the public from the process.

Unlike assessing rate increases for power or water ESCOSA would have to assess each council’s program noting there are vast differences between councils, how they are run and the programs they provide for their own communities. To treat all councils otherwise with a generic rate increase would not recognise these differences. It may be well more than some councils need but place others in financial hardship, particularly over the long term.

Equally I question the LGA claim however that our communities are consulted. This can on the surface be challenged. In the 5 years I have been present to watch our own community consultation I have seen no more than 5 people attend the public forum we provide to allow the public to contribute. On one occasion there was only one. This is hardly public consultation and difficult I would suggest to defend.

Having said that a large portion of our annual budget will have been set by decisions made by council in the months and meetings and indeed years gone by. Many of the projects being included in the current budget will have had large public consultation prior to being endorsed for implementation and prior to them being considered in a budgetary process. So arguably there has been prior consultation albeit on a project per project basis and not with consideration of how do we pay for it or which do we give priority to.

When an annual plan is put to the public whether to one or hundreds or thousands my experience is that there is no choice, no opportunity to prioritise. This should be given some thought by the local government industry. Provide choice with evidence of how much each initiative or project affects the rates and we would then have a considered input from the public from which councillors can then make decisions rather than them have sole prerogative on the priorities.

 

Unley Council 2015-16 Annual Business Plan and Budget

As foreshadowed in my blog post on Council Rates verses Council Services Council last night ratified the Unley Council 2015-16 Annual Business Plan and Budget.

 

And as foreshadowed the annual rate increase has been kept to 3.5%, the lowest increase in my short time on Council and down from the 4.1% we had anticipated we would need.

According to our administration the Annual Business Plan and Budget development process has applied the principles of fairness and equity to best meet the diverse needs of the community whilst considering Council’s adopted Community Plan 2033. The proposed Budget has been derived from applying a combination of expenditure reductions, increased rate revenue and assessment of the services delivered by Council.

Adoption of the Annual Business Plan and Budget for 2015-16 will ensure the delivery of services that contribute toward the achievement of the Council’s agreed Community Plan 2033. The financial sustainability of the Council has been considered and maintained during the development of the budget.

The Local Government Act 1999 and the Local Government (Financial Management) Regulations 2011 prescribe formal adoption procedures for the Annual Business Plan, Annual Budget, Capital Values and the declaration of General Rates and Separate Rates. The resolutions proposed in the report satisfy the Act and Regulations and have been reviewed by Council’s legal advisors.

The resolutions proposed reflect the discussions held in the Elected Member budget workshops specifically held to develop the 2015-16 Annual Business Plan and Budget.

The business plan and budget foreshadows as Jennie & I have been pushing for; the completion of the footpath inside 3 years.  Significantly for the west of the city it also includes council’s contribution to the under grounding of the power lines for Goodwood Road between the tram crossing and Victoria Street $650k. It includes also $ 750k in the coming year taking advantage of the under grounding for Streetscape and Wayfinding on Goodwood Road.

Disturbingly your rates will also cover the amount to be contributed to the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board (NRM Board) for 2015-16, which will be $1.134m

You can view the full  Unley Council 2015-16 Annual Business Plan & Budget on Council’s web site.

Council Rates verses Council Services

Council rates verses council services is always the question at this time of year. As always the press has been beating up on us for what they call a cash grab.

 

We are an easy target at this time of year and the impression is we are making money out of our rate payers just for the sake of it.

What is not reported on however is what Councils are providing for the rates they collect in favour of we waste money on a range of services that are not needed. This year Unley has been targeted in the rantings of the press as  planning to increase its rates revenue by 59.1 per cent over the next decade.

On Monday night we deliberate on our business plan and the rate increase needed achieve it. We look like we are going to hold it down to 3.5% this year, down from the 4.10% we felt may have been necessary before putting the final touches to our budget. Not only therefore is the figure quoted by the press incorrect but the article also did not differentiate between rate increases and rates growth (through new development etc).

While rates are subject to fluctuation, the most accurate and current predictions for the next decade are:

• A rate increases of 44.2 per cent (providing additional revenue of $15.2m)
• Rate growth of 5.95 per cent (providing additional revenue of $2.1m)

The other side of this equation of council rates verses council services of course is what level of services should we provide. This year we surveyed our ratepayers on this very question and Council receives this report on Monday night.

Reading through the report I draw the conclusion that our community is very positive about both performance and the service offering provided by Council and overall, there is a strong sense of value for money indicated by both the residents and businesses community.

A far cry from what the press is attempting to have you believe.

A big thank you to those who participated.