Please stay with Us is the second message coming from this years budget consultation

Please stay with Us is the second message coming from this years budget consultation. Your participation is needed next year as well, and beyond. Not just so you can own the budget but ….

 

You should stay with us because ratepayer involvement in the budget process can only bring about a better budget. A budget owned by our ratepayers. If you agree with this I simply ask you to please stay with us.

I cannot guarantee what impact you have had over this years budget but I can say I believe your councillors, your elected representatives, have heard you. Watch out for changes to the budget when it goes before council on that traditional last Monday of June.

Here is the second reason to stay with us.

As you know next March is an election to detrmine the next State Parliament. At this point in time it would appear that the Liberal Party is in the box seat; their election to lose as it were.

The Liberals rate capping pledge will be the Sword of Damocles sitting over our heads. Their belief is that Councils are not capable of determining a budget in your best interests. They believe that a centralised (sounds like something the Labor Party would do) bureaucracy is better qualified to detrmine what your local needs are.

Councils take their budgets out to you for your input. This will not happen under the Libs scheme.

As I am sure we will see at the end of this month your input will influence the final budget outcome. Interestingly the focus of our community was not on rate capping, unlike what will be the focus of the new bureaucracy. The communities attention was focused on the priorities of programs in the draft.

I finish this blog as I started it. Please stay with us.

Particularly if you would prefer to be a contributor rather than hand it over to the State Government’s new department. Who would you prefer?

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?

 

Increasing Rates Diminishing Services

Increasing rates diminishing services is the catch cry of a today tonight storey on Channel 7 tonight.

3robrogers_potholeslalom_robrogersA damming story aired tonight on the popular Channel 7 program about Council rates rising but services provided reducing. Two councils, Salisbury and Charles Sturt, were the focus of the story. Interestingly these are two of the State’s largest municipalities.

Thankfully the City of Unley did not feature. Unley is one of the smaller.

Two primary concerns were highlighted by the program. The first was maintenance of verges. Fixing pot holes in roads was the second.

One resident in Salisbury expects that verges should be cut by Council. The street shown on TV was one where there is a fence on the property boundary. This conflicts with those suburbs where there is no fence and where everyone appreciates the verge is the responsibility of the home owner. Here in Unley we have been giving residents the option of a green verge on the condition it is looked after by them. The alternative is for a dolomite verge.

Road potholes in Unley I don’t believe is a problem. If anything I believe we may have been over-serving in road replacement.

Removing trip hazards in footpath has been my bane. We have in my opinion too many trip hazards in our “brick” paved footpaths. That is a story for another day as we review what footpath service level we are prepared to accept. This is a debate we are currently having and I expect to report further on this sooner rather than later.

I ask you, what is the answer where or when Councils are under performing?

What do you expect from council when it comes to mowing verges, repairing pot holes in roads or eradicating footpath trip hazards? Do you agree with the topic of this article………increasing rates diminishing returns? What about my opinion on Unley. Is it accurate or do you believe Unley is as guilty as the two mentioned in the program?

Walking the streets of Unley I am forever reporting what I see. I often wonder how long the issue I have found, a trip hazard or whatever, has been there. I also wonder if the people who live in the adjacent house or work at the adjacent shop or office have reported it or whether they think Council should simply be ware without being alerted by them.

Help us to be better than those being complained about. Reporting what concerns you to us rather than to a TV station or the RAA would help.

You can do this by ringing 83725111, be emailing us at [email protected] Another way is to report it via our website at https://online.unley.sa.gov.au/ePathway/Production/Web/Default.aspx?js=-1154500411

Better yet how about downloading the My Local Services Web App for your smart phone.

Help us to help you and stay in front of such bad press.

 

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.