Reduced rate rise planned

HALF of Wellington Shire ratepayers will be paying about the same in rates as last year, according to mayor Scott Rossetti.

Wellington Shire Council’s draft 2014-15 budget, to be released for public comment on Tuesday night, includes a general rate increase of 3.8 per cent.

As reported in Friday’s Gippsland Times, when combined with no increase in charges relating to waste and garbage services, the increase council’s income from rates and charges is just 3.6 per cent.

Cr Rossetti said the lower rate rise than in previous years would not adversely impact the delivery of council services.

“(The 3.8 general rate rise) is the lowest rate rise in Wellington in at least 10 years and will see half of our residents paying either the same, or less, than last year’s rates,” he said.

“Council had to find ongoing annual operating savings of $1 million, without impacting on key service delivery. It is always a challenge balancing the community’s increasing demand for services against an equally strong desire for us to minimise rate increases.

“This raised questions around who should pay for delivery of specific services; if or how services used by very few should be subsidised. There is never an easy answer, but we recognise that we need to have these conversations on an ongoing basis, and particularly at budget time.”

In recent months, Cr Rossetti said council had reviewed operations to find areas where cuts could be made.

“Combined with a review of our depot operations, a number of vacant positions were re-evaluated. By establishing ways to deliver those same services in a more efficient way, we have reduced staff numbers by 6.4 equivalent full-time staff without facing redundancies,” Cr Rossetti said.

“The impending closure of the Sale transfer station is one example of substantial ongoing savings with annual operation of the facility, which will cease 30 June this year, costing in excess of $200,000.

“We have also sought to reduce the number of fleet vehicles, expenditure on corporate training and consultancy. Together, these cost savings mean that the ongoing capital works program and key services can and will be delivered in combination with a rate rise we are certain will be received favourably.”

Deputy mayor Patrick McIvor, one of two councillors who voted against last year’s rate rise of more than six per cent, welcomed the latest rate rise.

“This is a budget I can vote for. The organisation worked hard to find operational savings to put downward pressure on rates,” he said.

“The fact is that Wellington Shire rates have increased by 138 per cent in the last 10 years, the fourth highest increase statewide.

By keeping rate rises to a minimum in the coming years we can continue to reduce the burden on ratepayers.”

During this financial year, as required by legalisation, a revaluation of all properties within the municipality was carried out. This will apply from January 1 for the 2014-15 financial year.

The outcome of the general revaluation has been a moderate change in property valuations across Wellington.

Overall, total property valuations have increased by only 4.2 per cent. Of this increase, residential properties have increased by an average of 2.6 per cent and commercial properties by 7.95 per cent.

While total commercial valuations have increased significantly, only a small number of commercial ratepayers will experience a notable increase in rates. The majority, where no infrastructure upgrades have been undertaken, will only experience a moderate increase.

Council’s $30.87 million capital works program for 2014-15 includes a broad range of projects taking place across Wellington, such as:

$2.53 million on streetscape works, across the shire

$2.01 million to complete the Yarram Recreation Reserve clubrooms;

$2 million to fit-out the new council headquarters;

$1.35 million redevelopment of the Gordon Street Recreation Reserve clubrooms in Heyfield;

$750,000 to renew the McLoughlins Beach footbridge;

$645,000 on council’s annual footpath and shared path program;

$300,000 to widen Rosedale-Flynns Creek Rd;

$260,000 on playground upgrades;

$100,000 for the renewal of Stratford’s Memorial Park; and

$40,000 to replace the roof of Maffra’s Queen Street Kindergarten

The capital works program also includes $500,000 to begin the Port of Sale cultural hub project, which includes the redevelopment of the Gippsland Art Gallery, relocation of Sale Library and creation of a broader use community space at the Port of Sale Civic Centre. Council is relocating its administration from the civic centre to a new building across the road, on the corner of Foster and Desailly Sts.

Cr Rossetti said the cultural hub project would be of immense value to Wellington Shire.

“It, just like every capital project, is the result of significant community engagement, planning and development to ensure that we continue to provide the services and facilities which our community needs, not just now but for the decades to come,” he said.

Councillors will vote to release the draft budget for public comment during Tuesday night’s special meeting, held at the Port of Sale Civic Centre from 5pm.

The public will have until May 27 to make a written submission.

Council will consider the submissions during its June 3 meeting before voting on the adopting the budget on June 24.