New Initiatives form the basis of the rate increase proposed by the City of Unley for 2018/19.

New Initiatives form the basis of the rate increase proposed by the City of Unley for 2018/19.

As I indicated in my blog post of 22 April, Council is seeking your feedback on this year’s draft annual business plan and budget. A budget of new initiatives at around CPI to achieve.

Council’s budget reflects what I believe to be a more than appropriate approach. One that balances what I believe our community is seeking for us to add to our services with a rate increase that only all but matches CPI.

As seen by the table below our proposed increase is only marginally above CPI. The increase focuses pretty much only on new initiatives. Savings made in the last few years has meant we have kept our operating budget (those ongoing regular activities) at almost the current year’s figures.

The result is the rate increase we are proposing covers only new initiatives.

Initial Proposed Rate Increase 2.5%
ADD for impact of China Waste refusal 0.3%
TOTAL proposed rate increase 2.8%
CPI (annual to March 2017) 2.3%
Proposed New Initiatives 3.0%
(from table below) $ 1,241,500

In my blog post of 24 April, I highlighted the major initiatives, all of which are funded by loans. We have taken advantage of the low interest environment to fund works we had planned on doing later. These projects are shown in that blog post of 24 April.

The new initiatives that are the basis of this year’s rate rise are listed below.

New Initiatives

New Initiatives

 

Here’s are the questions for you.

Are you keen to see these projects undertaken. If not which ones. If you are but you don’t like the cost impact on your personal budget which of our normal activities would you like to see removed or scaled down.

Let us know by one of the many ways I indicated in my 22 April Blog Post.

 

The Future of Local Government-Local Government in Crisis

Local Government in Crisis was the topic of a summit I attended recently on behalf of the City of Unley in Melbourne.

 

As testimony that local government (worldwide) is in crisis the leaders of the summit sited the election of Donald Trump and Brexit. To build on this a key note speaker spoke of the crisis being faced by the City of London.

 

Curious examples I would have thought. An outsider being elected to the post known as the leader of the free world. A sovereign country leaving the European Union. The London Council, more like a State Parliament here.

Local Government in Crisis

Truthfully Governments, we all know, are in something of a crisis worldwide as evidenced by the examples given above. Does this drill down to local governments is the question to be answered?

 

Councils over in New South Wales it could be argued are in crisis. Theirs’s however is not one of people being disillusioned with them. It is under the pressure of forced amalgamations being imposed by the State Government. The people there indeed are actually fighting their State Government in support of the current Local Government model.

 

And back here in Adelaide the LGA has conducted a survey which has indicated that local government is the most trusted level of government in this state. A far cry from what I was hearing in Melbourne.

 

Local Government to lead the way, not Local Government in Crisis

 

Backed by these last two observations what I do agree coming out of the Summit is that Local Government “can” lead the way to correcting the disillusionment in Government that the Trump, Brexit factor shows exists. So far from the catch cry being local government being in crisis it should be local government to lead the way in healing public government relations.

 

In other words, I agree with the manifesto that came out of the Summit. A manifesto that rests on a belief that the state of the nation and the health of our society depend on community-driven action in the neighbourhood, not just decisions made in parliaments or boardrooms.

 

Put another way, the crisis facing governments worldwide can only be addressed by a localist approach. And that my friends is the strength of Councils similar in size to the City of Unley.

 

 

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.

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.

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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.

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.

 

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.

 

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.