WELLINGTON Shire Council adopted its 2021-22 budget on Tuesday night.
As reported in Tuesday’s Gippsland Times, written and verbal submissions resulted in minimal changes to the draft budget released for public comment in April.
Funding was provided for the design and cost planning for the extension of the Stratford Recreation Reserve social rooms and, subject to the Yarram Adult Riding Club making a contribution, to an equestrian facility at Yarram Recreation Reserve.
Since the draft budget was released, there has been an increase in planned employee costs associated with a temporary increase of full-time equivalent staff and a permanent increase of one full-time equivalent staff. Some positions are funded by unspent or new grant income.
This has resulted in a net increase in expenses of $400,000.
Additional money was also budgeted for the new litter bin contract, tourism study in Port Albert and the Yarram growth strategy project.
In May, council was advised it will receive $7.4 million in 21-22 Federal Assistance Grants in advance, which led to council altering its operating surplus to $9.7 million for the next financial year.
The combination of the early receipt of federal grants, additional employee costs and reclassification of capital expenses to operating expenses ($5.3 million) has been offset by increased operating grant funding of $3 million and a decrease in other expenditure of $900,000, which has reduced the 2021-22 total surplus by $9.3 million to $9.7 million.
Revenue from the general rate will increase by 1.5 per cent in line with the state government rate cap, while the garbage charge will rise from $222 to $243 and the EPA levy from $16.90 to $18.20.
The budget includes $48.24 million in capital works, including $44.09 million in new works, of which $27.14 million will be spent on roads, footpaths, bridges and drainage; $8.05 million on buildings, landfill improvements and land purchases; $1.02 million on parks and open space, and $2.29 million on recreational, leisure and community facilities.
Money will be allocated to upgrading Gordon St, Heyfield; netball court lighting at the Maffra Recreation Reserve, and the changerooms at Stephenson Park, Sale; with funding for biodiversity enhancement along Cricket St, Rosedale, and an environmental education centre and wetland project in Sale.
Money was also allocated for the following multiyear projects: the second stage of the Cowwarr streetscape masterplan; storm water retention basin and outfall improvement works in Maffra; expanding the Great Southern Rail Trail between Alberton and Welshpool; renewing works in York St, Sale; mooring access improvements at the Port of Sale; safety improvements on National Park Rd, Loch Sport; upgrading the Briagolong tennis courts; widening Sloping Bridge, Alberton West; upgrading the Seacombe boat ramp, and upgrading the footpath from Campbell St to Fulton Drive, Maffra.
Councillor Scott Rossetti said the budget’s total combined result reflected the receipt of substantial state government grants for infrastructure projects.
“That’s quite typical … about 60 per cent out of budget, give or take, is typically rates and about 40 per cent is from the government,” he said.
“Our true operating result, however, reflects a deficit, and we’ll ensure that that’s carefully managed.
“The rate cap constrains us by only being able to raise our rate by 1.5 per cent, which is the lowest in the last five years, and its does impede the amount of revenue that we can raise.
“Of course [there are] materials and service costs, many of which rise about the inflation rate.
“It’s meant that we’ve had to focus on maintaining or reducing costs where we can to ensure that our operations remain financially stable into the future.
“But we do look for other opportunities that lead the sector in improving our cost structure, but at the same time, in providing efficient operational and community services.”