Wellington Shire’s plans for the future

Wellington Shire Mayor, Ian Bye has laid out plans in the 2024/25 draft budget. Photo: Contributed

Mayor Ian Bye

Comment

A COUPLE of weeks ago, Wellington Shire Council released its 2024/25 draft budget for public feedback. I want to encourage everyone to have their say on this important document.

This draft budget forecasts a year of restraint, balancing substantial cost pressures with spending responsibly when it comes to the infrastructure, maintenance and services needed by our local community.

While we’re still planning for Future Wellington, we’re extremely mindful of external influences affecting council’s revenue. Like most councils, expenses have increased due to high inflation, however our income has been restrained by a rate cap of 2.75 per cent (set by the state government’s Fair Go Rates System) and slowed government grant funding. Simply put, everything is more expensive, but our income isn’t growing enough to cover it.

This means council has made some tough choices on what is delivered.

Wellington Shire’s population of 45,600 is spread across 10,900 square kilometres; our Victorian metropolitan counterparts average more than 147,000 residents across 66 square kilometres. This causes challenges when it comes to calculating how to continue funding more than 140 council services, while maintaining the geographically third-largest shire in Victoria.

It’s becoming harder to tender for big projects and infrastructure, because it’s costing more than it ever has. That’s why it was so important this year we compiled a responsible budget that returned to delivering on core services.

Let’s start with roads. We’ve had a tough time recently with 14 declared emergency events, like floods and bushfires, hitting us between March 2021 and February 2024. Last year alone, we had five big emergencies that set us back with unprecedented challenges.

These emergency events have resulted in an estimated $12 million in damage to our infrastructure, including roads, drains and bridges, which led to more than 230 road closures across the shire. A big focus in 2024/25 will be fixing roads, because it’s crucial for our communities that depend on roads for safe access and the economic flow-on benefits of industry and tourism.

This year we have budgeted $68.9 million for capital works, with $45.8 million funded from council operations and $20.1 million from external grants and contributions.

A total of $21.1 million has been allocated to road reseal and re-sheeting programs, $5.6 million for bridges and drainage, and a further $7.8 million for rural areas and on regular roads maintenance programs, including roadside vegetation management, fire breaks, rural road reseals and drainage, and gravel roads. Fixing and maintaining 3114km of roads remains a huge expense for council. We estimate more than 250 roads were directly affected by flooding over the past three years.

To really understand how much money is needed, we’ve listed some key road projects earmarked for this financial year – these include:

Duke Street, Yarram reconstruction – $1.25m;

Velore Road, Kilmany reconstruction- $1.2m;

Sale Toongabbie Road Stage 3 reconstruction – $900k;

Dargo Emergency Slip Rectification, Upper Dargo – $800k;

Mills Street, Heyfield rehabilitation – $750k;

Sale Cowwarr Road Stage 2 reconstruction – $600k;

Glencairn Road, Licola Slip rehabilitation – $600k, and;

Heyfield Seaton Road reconstruction – $600k.

The draft budget also prioritises the development of the Sale Integrated Centre for Children and Families on Gibsons Road, with $5.575 million allocated over two financial years for its construction. The new centre will provide a combined 122 new childcare and kindergarten places, multi-purpose consulting suites, and meeting and activity spaces for early childhood services and community use.

In preparation of this centre and the new Sale College, we are also planning to start construction of a $2.3 million roundabout at the intersection of Gibsons Road and Cobains Road in Sale.

We’re moving full steam ahead with the redevelopment of the Aqua Energy Leisure Centre, setting aside $16.796 million of the $23 million project cost in this year’s budget for this major transformation. This project is a turning point for our community in Wellington. When finished, it will feature a new, accessible 25m indoor pool, improved changing rooms, a 24/7 gym, and a water play area that the kids will love. This isn’t just an upgrade; it’s a vital step forward in making our community a better place to live, play and stay healthy.

Our community facilities remain a priority and although we can’t fund every request, we’re happy to announce that projects like the installation of LED lights at Maffra Lawn Tennis Club, costing $365k, and a $920k changerooms upgrade at Maffra’s Cameron Sporting Complex will go ahead this year, dependent on securing external funding.

We’re setting aside $1.14 million to make improvements at Yarram Pool, including updating electrical systems, pumps and pipes, as well as systems that clean and filter the water. Our aim is to streamline programming across the next summer swim season and we’re looking forward to working with the Yarram community on this work.

Dealing with waste is a big deal too. We recently successfully introduced new kerbside bins across the shire, and this year we’ll be spending $1.5 million on expanding Cell 4 at Kilmany landfill.

Renewable energy remains a key focus for us. In line with our current council plan, we’re working hard to support the local economy to deliver on our renewable energy priorities, unlocking the economic potential of renewable energy investments and advocating for employment and supply chain opportunities that will benefit the entire Wellington community.

We’ll keep pushing for more funding from state and federal governments. Our goal is to explore every opportunity for extra funding, to avoid extra costs for our residents.

We’re heading into an exciting time for Future Wellington. Our main goal for 2024/25 is to balance our core services while preserving our finances for the long term.

Ian Bye is Mayor of Wellington Shire.