85% of people agree with rate capping according to the Property Council. Who would have thought?

The debate on rate capping continues in the media, with the Property Council again taking the lead.  They conducted a survey showing 85% of people agree with rate capping.

 

Oh Really? Who would have thought that? Honestly. You don’t have to be Mandrake to understand that 85% of people agree with rate capping. Who wouldn’t.

This of course was a limited and a very simplistic a survey however.

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The question they should have asked is who is better placed to cap rates? Councils or a third party, namely ESCOSA.

 

The Bill before Parliament is not about rate capping. It is about shifting responsibility for setting rates from Council to a third party, another Government body.

 

Why not make Councils responsible for rate capping. In other words, it can be legislated. Just as other financial ratios Councils have to comply with are legislated.

Financial ratios such as:-

✔an operating surplus ratio.

✔a net financial liabilities ratio.

✔an asset renewal funding ratio or,

✔other rate related requirements.

Ratios as we are already required to do under sections 5(1), 6 & & of the Local Government (Financial Management) Regulations 2011.

 

The City of Unley voted against the Government’s Bill. This reads as we are against rate capping. Fact is we are not, as demonstrated by over the last 6 years.

We believe that setting your rate first and then cutting your cloth to suit is good policy.

Councils are better placed than a third party to do this. Using ESCOSA or other organisation to provide oversight to determine what the rate should be is on the contrary, bad policy.

It is bad policy because they do not have a relationship with you. They are also not accountable to you.

There is therefore no reason why the regulations could not be altered to achieve the government’s push for rate capping.

 

That is of course assuming their real intention is actually rate capping, not using rate capping as an excuse to control councils.

 

See Saw Margery Daw

See Saw Margery Daw Jacky shall have a new master. Jacky shall earn but a penny a day.

The seesaw is one of the oldest ‘rides’ for children, easily constructed from logs of different sizes. The words of “See Saw Margery Daw” reflect children singing this rhyme to accompany while playing on a see-saw.

This children’s nursery rhyme is being played out currently by our leaders. I refer to the rate capping saga that is being played out before us right now.

See SawAt one end of the see saw we already know is South Australia. At the other end we now find is New South Wales. Amazingly as the South Australian Government seeks to follow the lead of New South Wales and introduce rate capping we see New South Wales potentially going the other way. So. See saw Margery Daw is the game being played.

A year after the NSW Government scrapped its council amalgamations policy, the Committee for Sydney has released a report. Would you believe, a  report that is calling for the capping of council rates to be scrapped.

The report, A New Era for Local Government, calls for the end to ‘rate capping’. IPART (their equivalent of ESCOSA) sets the maximum amount NSW councils can collect in general revenue through an annual peg. It describes the annual rate peg as “a blunt instrument, with little economic rationale behind it, and which hinders local institutions on which much of our civic life depends”.

It is also calling for the establishment of a Council of Metropolitan Mayors to work alongside the Greater Sydney Commission and the introduction of a new fund to pay for local infrastructure.

Catch this, a levy on local rates to support local councils generate a pool of funds to expand and improve open space or maintain civic infrastructure, like roads and libraries or support town centre renewal. In other words, to allow Councils to catch up with their need to upgrade infrastructure.

The future of Unley’s Village Green is in good hands, those of our community.

The future of Unley’s Village Green is in good hands. Council has accepted a report on the findings of our Civic Precinct Working Group into how our village green may look into the future.

 

We are blessed to have a community that cherishes the environment in which they live. Accordingly, members of our Civic Precinct Working Group, have provided us with a blueprint for the future of our Village Green. With such as this, the future of the Village Green is in good hands.

Unley Village GreenThey have, without elected member influence, willingly provided Council an insight into how the village green may look going forward. As a result, I have confidence in saying the Village Green is in good hands.

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I repeat my thank you (at our recent council meeting) to the Civic Precinct Working Group. They gave their time to prepare the vision we have accepted on behalf of our community. As I indicated to the gallery at our last Council meeting, the people on this committee have experienced what it is like to be on Council, to consider what is good for our community.

They must feel good about their contribution. Well done, each of you.

 

The committee has provided your elected members a raft of opportunities for further consideration.

They have provided Council with a blueprint that focuses on the following:

1. The Unley Civic Precinct should attract more of the local
community to access and enjoy the precinct, providing greater
flexibility of use during the day and early evenings;

2. The Unley Civic Precinct is defined by the quality of its safer
local streetscapes, built and natural heritage, flexible public
spaces and diversity of community services;

3. The Unley Civic Precinct provides greater co-ordination
between the different stakeholders to provide for the needs of
the local community; and

4. The Unley Civic Precinct is a central community destination,
supported by a program of services, events and activities, in a
range of greener civic settings.

A number of options has been provided to us to achieve these aims. As a result, it is possible that the village green itself could grow in size along with a number of other improvements. Something many may remember I have long promoted as a potential for the future. I particularly was encouraged with a number of considerations were considered that would tidy up the architecture of the rear of the cottages along Edmund Avenue.

They even considered a need to refocus the Civic Centre to integrate better with the green and with Oxford Street. In other words, to have the Civic Centre open up to the surrounding facility rather than  focus inward.

For further detail of their report go to page 29 of the agenda for the July 23 Council meeting.

Is Unley’s Civic Centre suitable for future use?

Is Unley’s Civic Centre suitable for future use. This is the question recently considered by Council’s Strategic Property Committee.  An exercise Council has looked into even before the Village Green Precinct Working Group identified the need.

The Strategic Property Committee has a view that mirrors that the community group.

Our Civic Centre does have an inward focus.  Given this, and given it was built 40 years ago, it does not accommodate the needs of a 2020 and beyond Council. It is therefore, in my opinion, a less than efficient building.

While several options were put in front of the Strategic Property Committee our focus was on whether the next Council should explore a redevelopment or not. We recognise, as did the Precinct Working Group that the Civic centre should open up to Oxford Terrace and better link with the Village Green.

 

The options we viewed as evidence of how redevelopment is possible with minimal investment. Simply, detrmine what would be suitable for future use. As a result, we passed the following motion:

 

  1. The report be received.
  2. In lieu of the acquisition of property for civic purposes, the matter of redevelopment of the Civic Centre warrants consideration by Council to ensure the facility is appropriately developed for future operational and community needs, with a report to be prepared for Council investigating requirements and costs for:

          – Provision of a main entrance to the Civic Centre off of Oxford Terrace;

          – Addition of one floor over the existing Civic area;

          – Underground car parking within the civic precinct; and

          – Filling in the space between the Civic Centre and Library/Town Hall.

  1. That any funding for investigation of redevelopment of the Civic Centre will need to be considered as part of a future budget review process.

There is no budget for any redevelopment in our long term financial plan. As a result, this is simply recognising that we need to be looking at utilizing the existing facilities we have to accommodate our future occupancy needs without purchasing new property. In other words, recognizing that we perhaps should consider including such a project in our long term financial plan. A timely opportunity to recognise that we need always to plan for the future.

If council backs our recommendation it means our admin can do some research into our future needs. Because we are so close to the elections, and the caretaker period, any report will likley be presented to the next Council . Subsequently, any decisions to proceed or not, and with what, will be for the next or a future council.

The motion was carried unanimously. It is now for Council to consider. Let’s do the work know so we can establish what would be suitable for future use.

Externally imposed Rate Capping I believe to be poor policy.

Externally imposed Rate Capping I believe to be poor policy. Poor policy that you will (in time) pay dearly for. I expect that your other representatives will also view it as poor policy. We will need to wait on Monday’s special council meeting to know however.

Balancing the BudgetThe Rate Oversight Bill being considered by Parliament is aimed at shifting oversight on Council rates. From you to another arm of state government.

We are accountable to you. They are not. Do you want a single philosophy (rate capping) decided by a body, not accountable to you, to determine what services are provided you by your local council.

We will consider this at Monday night’s special council meeting. In so doing we will not simply vote yes or no. We will consider and make public our reasons for our decision.

I for one continue to be concerned that the Bill is bad policy. I say this even though I and Unley support the rationale of setting the rate first and cutting your cloth to suit.  Council and its community are surely best placed to provide this oversight.

My primary concerns I have shared with you last night. Some of my other concerns, which I am sure we will discuss on Monday night, I put on record below.

Grant Funding

South Australian Councils receive the lowest per-capita share of state government funding in the country.

I ask, is this State Government ready to put their hands in their pockets to bring us in line with the rest of the country.  We have yet to hear from them on this.

I doubt it. It is more likely there will be a continuation of cost shifting to local government (see next).

Cost Shifting-Overview

As the Government promotes their intention to avoid you paying more than you need to for the services provided by your local government we must all ask what guarantees they are going to provide against cost shifting. Cost shifting is a practice for governments of both persuasions have thrust upon local government.

Mandatory Fees and Charges

Many of our services are subject to a fee for service. An example of cost shifting is services such as Development Assessment. As I indicated in a recent post, rate payers subsidise these services and substantially. This will be even worse since the larger development projects are now being assessed by the State Commission Assessment Panel.

Is this fair?

Will the new government and future governments ensure we can truly get cost recovery for this service? I doubt it. I doubt it very much.

Social Housing

One of the most significant cost shifting is (by default) the transfer of management of social housing to community housing providers. When the previous government did this they also legislated that these providers receive a mandatory 75% rate rebate on council rates.

A reduction in their costs but a reduction in our revenue. The loss of this income has been transferred to you by way of rate increases above CPI.

The current government has made no offer to reverse this.

Not a huge impact on Unley but for some councils prohibitive. Of course, much of the medium density housing is expected to be social housing.

Solid Waste Levy

Rate payers through their councils pay the State Governments solid waste levy. To fate, to the tune of $118m. Very little of this money has been used for the intended purpose which is to improve recycling.

And catch this. The rate has increased 1450% since 2001. 9% this year. Compare that to the amount your council rates have increased.

To date of course, there is no indication from the government that they will peg these astronomical increases or (better yet) remove the levy. Perhaps ESCOSA should be commissioned to set these rate increases rather than the government.

No! What we have learnt from them is they believe we should be able to absorb the increased costs we are to be burdened by due to the recent China refusal to take that same underfinanced recycled material.

Finally

I wonder too about such things as:

  • As intimated above, if the government is serious about ensuring value for money for rates and taxes maybe they should be mandating that ESCOSA, as an independent body, be given the responsibility for capping such things as state government taxes, levies, fees and charges.
  • Should ESCOSA have the power to fine councils for inadvertently breaching the cap, and to name and shame them publicly. Inadvertently. Fined. Shamed. How punitive is that.

All in all then, unless there are arguments that sway my current paradigm, I struggle to see the Government’s proposed legislation as anything other than poor policy. If it is passed then we are going to be severely challenged in complying.

A reminder. The special council meeting will be held in our Civic Centre, commencing at 7.00pm.

Rate Capping passes the Lower House and awaits the Upper House.

Rate Capping passes the Lower House and awaits now reaction of the Upper House. The Local Government Industry in the meantime, is assessing the Bill presented to Parliament by the Government.

 

Rate Oversight Bill

RTe Oversight Bill

The Rate Oversight Bill which presents rate capping and which can be found here seeks to place authority in a (3rd) independent party for setting future rate increases in local government.

The Government is doing this to restore faith, they tell us, in Local Government. That said polls suggest that Local Government is the most trusted of the three levels of Government. That said, is this good policy or not. Is it bad policy.

While it has passed the lower house, where the Government has the numbers, its passage through the upper house does not look all that promising for those keen to have rate capping. Opposing the legislation are Mark Parnell (the Greens) and Frank Pangallo (SA Best). John Darley is leaning towards accepting but is unsure. The Labor Opposition are likewise yet to determine their position, even though it has passed the lower house. In both cases I suggest they are awaiting the response to the Bill from the Local Government Industry.

Is it good policy or not. What is the view of the Local Government Industry and indeed your own local Council, the City of Unley?

We will be considering this on Monday night at a special council meeting, convened to consider this very question. I invite you to come along and hear the debate. The venue for the meeting will be the Unley Civic Centre. It will commence at 7.00pm. The agenda will be available on line from Thursday here.

There are a number of questions in my mind that concern me, particular given the evidence overseas and interstate when rate capping has been introduced. I will reveal these in a subsequent blog post. Watch this space.

 

Please tell us whether we have understood your Design King William Road wishes.

As I indicated in my recent Design King William Road Blog Council has listened to what you wish the future King William road should look like. We are pumped too that you see it as more than pavers v bitumen.

Unlike the picture being painted in the media, it is about

  • greening;
  • better access across the street;
  • more outdoor dining and meeting and seating spaces;
  • sanitary conveniences;

This paints a picture of a pedestrian environment more than a vehicle dominated space.

With this information we have put together several design options. These options we are presenting are our interpretation of what you have asked us for.

DesignKingWilliamThey test the structure of the road, the surface of the road and the profile of the street. The options can be seen by visiting our shop front on King William Road or by visiting www.designkingwilliam.com

The first and I suggest most important in designing King William Road is the structure of the street. We offer three options. They are increasing to different degrees greening elements, pedestrian crossing points, outdoor spaces with a commensurate reduction in on street carparking.

The second is (yes) the surface. We offer three options again. They include variations of the extent of and areas to be paved.

The third is one I encourage everyone to understand. It focuses on kerbing between foot traffic areas and vehicle access areas. The options include keeping the traditional kerb and water table kerbing we have now. The other options include an alternative of a roll over kerb and a no kerb option.

The no-kerb option is surely (if I can prompt) the one that provides the safest and more inclusive crossing the street options we can provide. People using mobility scooters and chairs or parent s pushing prams will find this the best option. It will be the best option to for a safe event environment (just like Rundle Mall).

We are inviting you to put your views to us again. You can do this, once again by visiting the ship front or on line at www.designkingwilliam.com

Please do this. It is your street after all.

Bring our own digital systems into the 21st Century

It is absolutely necessary that we bring our own digital systems into the 21st Century. Only then can we aspire to the claim to be leaders in this space.

We should no longer be reluctant to move to a preference for digital communication in fear of missing those in our community still not using smart technology.

Unley Digital use

With those using smart technology being in the vast majority our primary communication focus cannot afford to be other than digital. Communication Cost

The cost per person to access those not yet using technology is far greater than reaching those who are. We must take advantage of this if we are to be efficient in our communications.

All staff should be able to operate “current” technology “on up to date” equipment. Windows 10 and Office 16 is essential.

My experience with the Surface Pro satisfies me that it is an ideal tool for elected members. I suspect staff as well. A portable computer, it can be used as a tablet. It avoids having to have a computer AND a tablet.

If using one machine only, it is preferable that we use a computer pretending to be a tablet rather than a tablet pretending to be a computer. Such provides those of us who prefer having only a computer or only a tablet to have their needs met.

Cloud technology is also a must.

The cloud allows everyone to access files they are authorised to access from anywhere. Not just physically at a Council facility. This includes the public.

Digitalisation allows us to make use of data (if and when collected) unlike ever before in history. That said, we must seek to understand and adopt the management of data. Incorporating this into our system going forward is a must.

We must be in readiness for the State Governments digitalising of the planning system. Developers (including mums and dads) should be able to lodge DA’s electronically. Rate payers under cat 2 notifications should be able to view proposals without physically having to come to the Civic Centre.

One area where much can be gained by a Digital approach is in processing Development Applications.

The smart use of data allows anyone who selects a particular site within the City of Unley to know immediately pertinent facts of that property.

This includes title information, the m2 of the allotment, the zoning, and automatically identifying such things as encumbrances and easements etc.

The ability to identify immediately the amount of roofed area will be possible. Private open space likewise. It will automatically indicate 2nd storey opportunities whether in the roof space or not. It will not only also identify such things as permissible set-backs from front, side or rear set backs. We will be able to readily see such things as the required number of under cover carparks.

All at the touch of a button. No need now to understand the planning in order to navigate manually the printed development plan.

The challenge will be to know what data to keep and what data is of little or no value. This is something that must be appreciated now before systems are developed.

Mapping is another area that can make so much difference to helping us make informed decisions. From showing the impact of shadowing from potential new development to knowing what is happening to our tree canopy.

Car parking likewise. The use of sensors, data bases, cloud technology etc can provide us with opportunities to alert drivers as to where there may be available parks. It can also alert our rangers to those who have overstayed their welcome.

And so much more!

Loss of canopy cover in the City of Unley blamed on Council.

The public debate, fuelled from within Council, on the loss of canopy cover in the City of Unley has been blamed on the Council.

We have had a loss of cover in recent years from 26% of the Council area covered with trees to 21%. A reduction of 20% of the original cover.

The sharp drop has been attributed to the loss of trees on private land. In other words, removal of trees by our rate payers is having an alarming impact on our tree stock. This is then causing a loss of canopy cover, a significant loss.

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It is true that we have lost trees on private land. It is nowhere near as significant however in my opinion as those we have removed ourselves. Council that is. Our street trees and our park trees.

Yes! Council is to blame for the loss of canopy cover. But it is however, for a very different reason.

I ask everyone to stop and take a deep breath. I ask us all to remain calm and put things into perspective. In other words, let us stop the hysteria that something is painfully wrong in Unley.

In 2016 Council implemented a 2nd Generation tree program as part of it’s 2016-19 tree strategy. This policy targeted the renewal of 2,000 trees in 5 years. We knew at the time that this would see a significant loss of canopy cover in the short term.

The aim behind the policy was to avoid too many trees all reaching end of life in a small-time frame. The loss of canopy cover would be catastrophic if that could occur.

I am asking our administration for a report on the progress of the 2016-19 tree strategy.

In the report I want to know not just how many trees we have removed and how many we have replaced them with. I am asking them to calculate what the loss of canopy cover is. How much canopy the fledgling trees are providing is the follow on question. More to the point I am asking them what the potential cover of the replacement trees will be when they mature and when we can expect that.

So! Before we panic, let’s be certain of what is happening. The loss should only be temporary and the direct result of our policy.

If the loss is not acceptable let us cut back the program and/or stop it. Otherwise let us accept there will be a short term pain in order to achieve the long term gain.

Unley Community has been a shining example for all Local Government Communities

The City of Unley Community has been a shining example for all Local Government Communities. 117 of our citizens have contributed to our 2018/19 budget. 29 of those attended our public meetings.

Thank you for your contribution.

This follows the example set last year. It is inspiring given in my 1st 3 years as a Councillor we had 1, 2 and then 4 people respectively attend our public meetings.

You have answered my call to stay with us in this climate of rate capping. Rather than rely on the Government to rate cap us you have taken the responsibility to encourage us to include what you want.

Last year your input impacted on the then proposed rate increase of 2.8%. You wanted more and to achieve it we lifted the increase by 0.2% to 3.0%. This was still inside the rate cap we work on which is CPI plus 1%.

At our workshop on Monday night we had some tough decisions to make. Once again you wanted us to include more, and without suggesting cutting anything to accommodate the cost of the initiative you wanted.

Most of you were looking for even more environmental initiatives than we have already included. That said some of you weren’t too aware of what initiatives we had included. Next year we will need to be a lot clearer in detailing this.

A small handful of you wanted a reduction in rates and for us to focus on roads, rates and rubbish.

The budget will be finalised when Council meets formerly on the last Monday of this month. When we meet we will have to consider whether to include some of the extras being requested or not.

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If they are to be included we will need to consider whether to reduce our projected surplus, whether to reduce other services and/or to increase the rate.

Wish us well please in our deliberations.