City of Whittlesea administrators Bruce Billson, Lydia Wilson and Peita Duncan.

By Colin MacGillivray

CITY of Whittlesea administrators have declared the 2020-21 budget a ‘quality’ and ‘responsible’ financial roadmap to guide the municipality through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The panel of three administrators, appointed by the State Government in the wake of council’s dismissal in March, unanimously approved the budget at a special meeting last week.

The budget had been due for consideration at a special meeting on June 25, but was deferred until last week to give newly-appointed administrators Bruce Billson and Peita Duncan more time study the document.

Administrator chair Lydia Wilson said investment in infrastructure was a key focus of the budget.

“I believe this is a very responsible budget that reflects the difficult times we’re all in very well,” she said.

“It shows consideration to the recovery effort we have ahead of us with regard to the significant impacts of COVID-19 and also that there are many members of our community and businesses that have been and will continue to struggle into the future.”

The budget allocates $74.52 million for new capital works in addition to nearly $10 million of carryover works from 2019-20.

Included in the capital works budget is $3.29 million for the Mernda Sports Hub project, which will be used to continue developing a masterplan and conducting community consultation. A revised masterplan is scheduled to be released late this year.

Other major projects funded by the budget include $13 million for Boundary Road works, a combined $3 million for streetscape improvements in Thomastown and Lalor, and $4.3 million for the construction of a community centre west of Epping Road.

The budget set aside $2 million for a community pandemic recovery fund to be designed by council in collaboration with community members, businesses, clubs and groups.

A COVID-19 financial hardship policy will help provide relief from council rates and charges to residents in need.

The budget projects an underlying surplus of $14.94 million dollars.

Mr Billson said the budget balanced a need to help Whittlesea residents cope with the financial effects of the pandemic with spending on key projects.

“I think a balanced budget is a great outcome. It displays a lot of rigour,” he said.

“I would have been very pleased if we’d held [the capital works budget] at the level we had last year, but, notwithstanding the challenges of COVID-19, it’s $5 million larger which is a real investment in servicing our growing community.”

Ms Wilson said council would absorb most of the cost of the increased State Government landfill levy, which had risen by more than 20 per cent.

City of Whittlesea residents will only see a two per cent increase in waste collection charges.

The administrators also adopted the 2020-21 Council Action Plan that will help shape council’s vision for the next 12 months.

Ms Wilson said there would be a focus on leadership, social inclusion and sustainability.

“There are a number of climate change and integrated water-management initiatives included within the council plan, aimed at ensuring we future-proof the municipality from an environmental sustainability perspective,” she said.

“These include things such as the protection of local biodiversity, additional trees for cooling and shading, initiatives to reduce community and also our own use in relation to waste, water and energy, and other climate change actions.

“We’ve got a key focus on upgrading our parks, gardens and recreation reserves, and last but not least, initiatives to grow our local economy and local jobs.

“We all know that is going to be critical now as the result of the impacts of COVID-19.”