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.

 

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.

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.

City of Unley Community asked to help with Developing our Draft Footpath Trading Policy.

A community consultation on our draft Footpath Trading Policy commenced yesterday. It will run until close of business Friday 29 June 2018.

The Policy covers the management of permits for both outdoor dining and the display of merchandise on our footpaths.

Section 222 of the Local Government Act 1999 requires to develop a Policy. This is something we must do, a legal requirement imposed by the State Government. We therefore have no choice in the matter. As a result, hopefully impacted businesses will realise we are doing all we can to help them benefit from the Policy.

Example of safe footpath trading on Goodwood Road

Businesses play a significant role in providing the vibrancy and cosmopolitan lifestyle of the City. The draft Footpath Trading Policy therefore aims to achieve a workable balance between this and to maximise safety and the accessibility needs of pedestrians.

If we get it right, rather than restrict businesses we will provide opportunities for them to utilise the footpath space in front of their business for trading purposes.

Our aim is to ensure that displays and activities on footpaths are established, operated and maintained in an appropriate manner and our processes align to legislative requirements. We therefore propose that as far as is practicable we have clear 3 zones:

  • A Walkway Zone.
  • A Trading Activity Zone (area for business merchandising and outdoor dining).
  • A Kerbside zone.

After the results of the community consultation are known, we will consequently be able to finalise the Policy.

There are a number of ways for the community to provide feedback including:

  • Completing the online survey by close of business Friday 29 June 2018 – yoursay.unley.sa.gov.au
  • Completing a hard copy survey available at our Customer Service Centre, 181 Unley Road, Unley
  • Dropping in and speaking to our team anytime on Thursday 21 June at Living Choice, 123 Fisher Street, Fullarton
  • Participating in our Business and Community Information Sessions, held at Living Choice, 123 Fisher Street, Fullarton on:

11am – 12.30pm, Thursday 21 June.

2pm – 3.30pm, Thursday 21 June.

7.30pm, Thursday 21 June.

 

PS We will email the various trader associations, all local businesses, the Active Ageing Alliance as well as general promotion via the Messenger, our Unley Life column, via social media channels.

 

Have we understood your input into Design King William?

Over the last month many of you have inspired us with your insights into what is required to make King William Road the most loved main street in South Australia. Thank you for that.

We now want to know, have we understood your input into Design King William.

DesignKingWilliamThe majority of the feedback we have received to date highlights your desire for a more beautiful, active and accessible main street. To design King William Road with more greening, spaces for people, with safer points to cross King William Road. A desire balanced with the need for on-street parking.

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What I have seen inspires me. It re-affirms my own vision of how it can become the most loved main street in South Australia. Thank you.

In response, our design team has prepared three demonstrations of how these elements could be included in the street to varying degrees.

As a result, we need your help again. From Monday we are seeking your input again. This time, to evaluate these 3 designs.

In addition, we will also have three approaches to the road surface. This includes from fully paving the roadway, parking spaces and footpaths, to a bitumen roadway with pavers limited to parking spaces and the footpaths.

Each option is a different look for King William Road. They also carry different construction timelines and levels of disruption for visitors, traders and motorists.

We’re keen to understand what you consider is the best solution while maintaining the charm and character as we re-design King William Road.

From next Monday, this new material will be on display in the shop front, as well as accessible online. We will record your preferences to help inform the eventual design outcome.

My colleagues and I will then be able to make as informed a decision as is possible. Together we can make King William Road the most loved main street in South Australia.

Is the LGA Lunatic Asylum correct in declaring there is no benefit to Councils being a member of the LGA?

As covered in my recent Lunatic Asylum blog post a claim being made by many elected members in the industry. This includes from within Unley Council.

They claim there is no benefit to Councils being a member of the LGA?

LGA LogoCity of Unley logoIndeed, two questions have been asked in our chamber along these very lines. Questions based on there being no benefit to Councils being a member of the LGA.

Answering the first question, to access these services the City of Unley invests $ 55,000.00 per annum.

Our membership entitles Unley of the services of the LGA in both advocacy and assistance.

The LGA is a representative body. Accordingly, it succeeds on the input of its members.  My blog “Are Your Leaders Showing Leadership or Merely Expert Spectators?”examines this observation.

Membership provides us with the following opportunities:

  • For us to share experiences with the wider local government industry;
  • To learn from each other;
  • To work together to find solutions for common obstacles; and
  • Make our work more cost-effective.

This is difficult to monetise. Anyone who is a member of any other association would recognise this. Whether in a sporting club, a social club, or a church, members recognise the need to have an association.

Businesses often ally themselves to an association. Even the trade union movement and all the Unions recognise this through the Council of Trade Unions.

Rate payers fund our membership. Let’s examine some of the benefits.

LGA advocacy is invaluable.

While we may obtain some grant funding by way of direct negotiation, we still need the LGA. We simply do not have the resources to be in continuous dialogue with the State or Federal Government.

We believe we are in the running for some funding for the King William Road redevelopment. Due to the advocacy on the part of the LGA this takes much pressure off the budgeting of this necessary project.

They influenced the implementation of the State’s new planning system.Likewise they provided input into the new Planning and Design Code. This because we we could not have done so on our own with some consistency with other Councils. Consequently, one recent major win here was their successfully obtaining relief for councils from contributing to the SA Planning Portal contributions. Sorry but I can’t remember how much this was but it was significant.

They have made submissions with our input to the State Government on the Community Engagement Charter, Design Code and Accreditation Scheme. Likewise they have advocated on the e-planning portal. This has resulted in a 12-month delay and a saving to councils upwards of $24,000.00.

The LGA provides direct assistance in several key areas.  Thankfully this can be measured financially.

Education and training available through the LGA would cost us at least $ 65,000.00 pa if we were to source like programs ourselves.

Just keeping up with legal changes confronting Councils and delegations and authorisations adds $ 10,000 pa to our costs.

Financial assistance is a major benefit. They provide this by way of low cost loans via their finance arm. As a result they save the 68 councils an average over $100,000.00 pa each. Most noteworthy, some Councils have tested this over time. Their investigations have concluded that the LGAFA to be the best avenue of low cost loans.

Likewise, the workers compensation scheme and the mutual liability scheme save on average across the 68 councils around $ 500,000 each.

This year is an election year. Because of their resources the LGA provides the bulk of the cost of achieving this, saving us around 0.5 FTE and a cost of $ 50,000.00. Especially relevant this is the same as the membership fee.

In conclusion, I suggest anyone suggesting there is no benefit to Councils being a member of the LGA is not demonstrating leadership.