Council trims services

AN end to mosquito monitoring, closure of the creche at Aqua Energy and decommissioning the mobile library vehicle are among measures being proposed by Wellington Shire Council to minimise the rise in council rate charges.

Council has proposed a 3.5 per cent rate increase in its 2015-16 budget, which will be released for public comment on Tuesday night.

It comes 12 months after council adopted a 3.8 per cent rate rise, its lowest in more than a decade.

According to council, the 3.5 per cent rise is one of the lowest so far proposed across Victoria.

Latrobe City Council has proposed a 3.15 per cent rise, East Gippsland Shire Council 4.5 per cent and South Gippsland Shire Council 4.9 per cent.

With increases in the rate infrastructure and garbage charges, income from rates and charges will increase by 3.75 per cent.

To deliver lower rate rises, council has proposed reducing, altering or removing some services, including a change to the mobile library.

Wellington Shire mayor Carolyn Crossley said while council recognised the importance of mobile library service for isolated residents, the $500,000 price tag to replace the aging vehicle could not be justified.

“We are investigating a number of alternative models to continue to offer a mobile library service to our more remote communities. The existing mobile library vehicle is getting very old, it breaks down regularly meaning that the current service is no longer reliable,” Cr Crossley said.

“Once we’ve found a suitable, cost effective alternative to continue to offer a remote library service, the current vehicle will be decommissioned.”

Council has proposed closing the creche at Aqua Energy in Sale, which costs more than $70,000 per year to run.

The decision was made because the facility has only moderate usage and other childcare options are available.

“We have studied the numbers involved and it is very clear that the creche is simply not financially viable, and we need to trim the overall operating expense of the Aqua Energy facility, which, along with our pools in Maffra, Yarram, Stratford, Rosedale and Heyfield, cost ratepayers around $1 million a year to run,” Cr Crossley said.

“We began the process over a year ago, of determining how services used by very few should be subsidised. These are difficult conversations, but in order to keep rates to a minimum, they are necessary ones. Where commercial alternatives exist, as in this case, it’s appropriate that we step back.”

Cr Crossley said the mosquito monitoring and management program was a state government initiative which costs council more than $50,000 per year.

“There is little evidence to prove that it has a substantial effect on the amenity and health of the communities close to the wetlands where some areas are sprayed,” she said.

The mayor said it was impossible to eradicate mosquitoes, with strategies such as the use of insect repellents a far more effective measure against being bitten.

To reduce the rate rise below last year’s, council had to deal with the freeze on federal government grants and the proposed introduction of rate capping by the state government.

Local government, the mayor said, was expected to deliver more services with less money.

For example, she said council had increased expenditure on emergency management by more than $200,000 during the past two years to meet growing responsibilities and address changing regulations.

“It’s a very fine balancing act between community need for services and community want for low rates,” Cr Crossley said.

“This year, council is confident the balance lies in our residents’ favour.”

Included in the draft budget is $4.73 million to be spent on the Port of Sale Cultural Hub project, combining the Gippsland Art Gallery, Sale Library and Wellington Shire Library headquarters, council chamber and café with free Wi-Fi.

Other works proposed in the 2015-16 program include:

• $2.4 million on rehabilitation of Kilmany and Longford landfills;

• $1.42 million on the redevelopment of Heyfield Gordon Street Recreation Reserve club rooms and fire services upgrade;

• $1.17 million to complete the Sale Livestock Exchange upgrade;

• $1 million on residential street schemes construction;

• $937,000 on the annual footpaths and shared paths program;

• $800,000 on the reconstruction of Brewers Hill Rd, Maffra;

• $554,500 on boating infrastructure facilities;

• $550,000 to renew Lower Dargo Bridge;

• $450,000 to complete the Yarram streetscape renewal;

• $300,000 on renewal of the Rosedale streetscape;

• $225,000 to redevelop the Lake Victoria Foreshore, Loch Sport;

• $125,000 on the renewal of the McAlister and Wellsford Sts roundabout, Stratford, and

• $50,000 to install an exercise circuit at Island Reserve, Maffra.

Cr Crossley said the shire’s natural environment would benefit from a $3.55 million investment in open space projects.

“Projects include $2.75 million on streetscapes, $340,000 on parks and reserves and sportsgrounds and $460,000 on playgrounds,” she said.

During the next financial year, council will undertake the stage two heritage study for places of significance, including historical buildings, complete the Sale Memorial Hall master plan and implement the Port Albert lifestyle lots review.

Council indicated it would continue to deliver a wide range of services including provision of more than 5600 immunisations, reuniting more than 600 domestic pets with their owners, loaning more than 600,000 library items, teaching more than 700 children how to swim, emptying 18,400 garbage and recycling bins every week, inspecting more than 1300 food premises, and deciding more than 1000 planning permit applications.

Council net borrowings will increase by $68,000 to $13.2 million, or 26 per cent of rates, well below the 50 per cent permitted in local government guidelines.

Tuesday night’s meeting at the Port of Sale Civic Centre will begin at 6pm.

Once approved for public release, the public will have until May 19 to make submissions on the budget.

Submission will be considered by council on June 2 before the budget is formally adopted on June 16.