Roads of contention


By Colin MacGillivray

MITCHELL Shire Council have described the 2020-21 budget as financially responsible, but two councillors are concerned it does not allocate enough money for roads and infrastructure.

The proposed budget passed by seven votes to two, with councillors Bill Chisholm and Bob Cornish voting against the budget’s adoption.

Highlights of the budget, adopted at council’s meeting last week, include $2.48 million for the rejuvenation of Sydney Street in Kilmore, $1.93 million for Wallan’s Greenhill Reserve and Wellington Street precincts, and $2.37 million for a permanent resource recovery centre in Seymour.

Overall, the budget has set aside $1.3 million for buildings; $12.55 million for roads; $1.76 million for footpaths and cycleways; $870,000 for bridges; $120,000 for drainage; $4.18 million for recreational, leisure and community facilities; $7.33 million for waste management; and $6.23 million for parks, open space and streetscapes.

A kerbside rubbish collection fee will increase by about $35 per ratepayer to cover the increased cost of State Government waste-management charges.

Rates will rise by two percent across the shire, in line with a State Government mandated rate cap.

But interest charges on all rates notices will be deferred until September 30 and several other council fees will be waived to help ratepayers cope with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The budget projects an adjusted underlying surplus of $1.6 million.

Cr Chisholm said not enough money had been allocated to roads in rural areas.

“Anyone concerned with roads in this shire should be really upset, and I know a lot of rural people definitely are,” he said.

“Currently, 80 kilometres of the 694 kilometres of sealed roads in the shire are beyond intervention level – that means they need a really large amount of work done on them and I do not see any funding going towards this.

“We don’t have a resealing program for bitumen roads, which just about every other shire in the state does.

“Mitchell Shire was spending more in 2012-13 than we currently are on the maintenance and renewal of our roads.”

Cr Cornish said he wanted to see more money and planning for infrastructure development in the south of the shire.

“It’s a much better budget than what we’ve had in years gone by, but it’s taken a long while to get our Integrated Community Services and Infrastructure Plan up and running,” he said.

Cr Cornish said the council was yet to formulate a masterplan for the recreational site at 300 Northern Highway, Wallan.

“Until such time as we do have a masterplan it’s going to be difficult to prioritise anything moving forward,” he said.

“Our infrastructure is lacking down there and while we don’t do anything about it, it’s only falling further and further behind.”

Cr Rhonda Sanderson said while she understood the concerns of Cr Cornish and Cr Chisholm, the budget was focused on the ‘long-term future and prosperity of community’.

“The proposed capital works budget for 2020-21 is $40 million, of which $12.55 million is for roads and $1.76 million is for footpaths and cycleways,” she said.

“Last year it was $4 million on roads, this year it’s $12 million. Footpaths has gone up by about $400,000, so we are making inroads into those areas, but it’s a big catch-up and we realise that.

“We have to balance it. We can’t pour all our money into one area and neglect the others.

“We’ve only got fixed pie of funds and if one area is increased, the others have to decrease.

“The only other option we’ve got is to ask for an exemption to the rate cap, which I don’t think the community would support.”

Mayor David Lowe said the budget’s projected surplus would put the shire in a strong financial position amid a pandemic-induced recession.

“This council has been able to produce budget surpluses for the past three years of our term – a great building block for our future,” he said.

“As we’ve seen this year, our ability to be financially responsible and plan ahead allowed us to meet the needs for COVID-19 recovery as well as solid population growth.

“Supporting our expected growth has always been a big focus of council. We have been able to secure $30 million worth of investment from both state and federal governments to improve our infrastructure.”

Councillors praised the input of the community, with council receiving more than 200 online responses and 17 written submissions during its draft budget process.

Cr Annie Goble said she hoped the financial approach adopted by council would lead to more money being spent on roads in future budgets.

“I wish we could have addressed the community’s wants and needs with more roads and more footpaths,” she said.

“I want to reassure the community that we really do try to make the budget as fair and responsible as possible.

“We’ve done this with a very limited income. We all have the very best of intentions.

“It is a financially responsible budget, and we look as though we will have a surplus even after going through the coronavirus scenario that has impacted our finances so much.

“Next year we might be able to address some of the concerns with far more effect.”