By Jackson Russell
Mitchell Shire Council’s 2019-20 budget was adopted at Monday’s council meeting, but it was far from unanimous.
The budget includes $7.13 million on roads, $1.37 million on footpaths and cycleways, $803,000 on bridges, $2.71 million on recreation, leisure and community facilities, $1.45 million on parks, open space and streetscapes, $3.42 million on waste management and $4.6 million on buildings.
Council also received $11.68 million in grants to support capital projects.
Rates will increase by 2.5 per cent in line with the State Government’s rate cap, the garbage charge will increase by 18.42 per cent from $342 to $405 per year for a full service and the municipal charge will increase to $316 per year.
The garbage charge increase is due to higher costs in delivering waste management services including the change to contract rates for recycling and sorting.
Council also adopted a new Strategic Resource Plan and rating strategy.
South Ward councillors David Lowe, Bob Cornish and Rob Eldridge all voted against adopting the budget, citing a lack of funding for their ward considering the disproportionate amount of rates income the ward provides.
Cr Cornish said there appeared to be a failure in providing infrastructure in the south of the shire.
“With the population of Wallan alone expected to more than double to 30,000 people within five or six years, there appears to be a big failure on the ground with infrastructure falling behind as we speak,” he said.
“Currently the south pays in excess of $11 million dollars more than the north and central wards. That gap will continue to widen while the needs increase.”
The final budget comes after pre-budget public consultation drew 455 responses and more than 750 suggestions, which were taken on by council in drafting the budget.
The new budget includes $26.9 million for new capital works and a total program of $35.3 million including carry forward projects from last financial year.
North ward councillor Rhonda Sanderson moved the adoption of the budget and said it was a financially-responsible budget, which had involved significant community input.
“Of our total budget, by my calculation, approximately $36 million supports the council business areas of advocacy, planning, strong communities, local jobs and investment, environment and community participation,” she said.
“Historically, funding of these services has been significantly higher than capital works, however, this year it is matched by approximately $35 million in capital works with a $10 million increase in capital works over last year.”
Cr Sanderson suggested the Strategic Resource Plan was the more important of the two.
“This plan shows council is focused firmly on the long-term issues for our community and council’s ongoing financial sustainability,” she said.
“It shows our intention to achieve an underlying surplus of $4.5 million in the new financial year.
“That is a major turnaround. When I first joined council, the first budget in 2012-13 faced a deficit of $7.6 million.”