Annual report highlights hopeful future

The front page of Whittlesea Review’s March 24, 2020, edition depicts Premier Dan Andrews’ sacking of City of Whittlesea councillors.

THE City of Whittlesea’s Annual Report 2019-20 has painted a positive outlook for the municipality despite the significant challenges it faced during the past financial year.

Among the many setbacks the city dealt with from July 2019 to June 2020 were the sacking of former chief executive Simon Overland in December, the appointment of a municipal monitor by the State Government, and the subsequent dismissal of councillors by former Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek in March.

Three administrators – Bruce Billson, Peita Duncan and chair Lydia Wilson – were appointed to lead the council in June after Ms Wilson had served three months as interim administrator.

After the departure of Mr Overland, Kelvin Spiller and Joe Carbone both spent time as acting chief executives.

The city also dealt with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which impacted the operational capacity and financial position of local businesses, community organisations and residents.

Ms Wilson said despite all the setbacks of the past financial year, the city was in a remarkably strong position.

“Our annual report highlights many achievements amid a year of very significant change and challenges,” she said.

“A key focus of the council has been embedding good governance and restoring stability to the organisation while also representing the community.

“Our $67 million new works program delivered around 128 projects for our community to enjoy and ensure our city is well planned and meets the needs of all those who work, live and visit here.

“Some of the highlights include completing the $2 million redevelopment of Norris Bank Reserve and a $4.8 million upgrade to TH Hurrey Reserve in Yan Yean.

“A new community centre, Ganbu Gulinj, will cater for the growing Epping North and Wollert community and we are very pleased to have completed a $12 million upgrade to the busy intersection of Findon Road, The Lakes Boulevard, and Ferres Boulevard, which has improved traffic flow for motorists and improved safety for pedestrians and cyclists.”

Ms Wilson said the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic had put it in a position to bounce back strongly.

“COVID-19 had a significant impact on the second half of the financial year and council supported the community through a $200,000 Emergency Relief Fund, a $90,000 local business support package, a Financial Hardship Policy and a commitment of a further $2 million to COVID-19 recovery in the 2020-21 Budget,” she said.

“Many services were adapted during the pandemic to meet restrictions while continuing to provide essential services and keep people connected and engaged.

“We’ve achieved significant federal and State Government grants through various stimulus packages, and we’re extremely grateful for the support and ongoing advocacy of our local members of parliament.

“Despite some internal challenges coupled with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve had a good year overall and continued to deliver on our vision for Whittlesea 2040: A Place for All.”

Some highlights detailed in the annual report include an end-of-year operating cash surplus of $26.543 million.

The surplus was mostly created from funds and grants received in advance from the federal and state governments for the delivery of future services. It also includes a grant for Working for Victoria, which would employ 240 people who lost their job during the pandemic at council and in local non-government organisations delivering front line services.

Also detailed in the report are continued works on the $25 million refurbishment of Mill Park Leisure, due to open in 2021, and the successful trial of a food and organics waste collection service, which lead to the introduction of the service city-wide from July 1.

Administrator Bruce Billson said he was excited for the year ahead as the City of Whittlesea continued its recovery from the pandemic.

“This [report] is an excellent story about what the city has been through in that 12 months from 2019 to 2020,” he said.

“It’s been a very challenging year on a number of fronts. Notwithstanding those headwinds, it’s been a year of good progress, with some very noteworthy achievements of which I think the community can be extremely proud.

“Financially … COVID-19 has buffeted the City of Whittlesea, but still there has been a very strong financial position achieved at the end of the year.

“The whole City of Whittlesea endeavoured to make sure we were very mindful about expenditures and able to open up opportunities to provide targeted support where it was needed to help the community and the organisation through COVID.

“The entire council operations have had to adapt to meet new restrictions, new requirements and to continue the delivery of essential services to keep people connected and engaged.

“This annual report represents a starting point for further achievement in this financial year, which I’m looking forward to being a part of.”
People can view the full City of Whittlesea Annual Report 2019-20 at whittlesea.vic.gov.au/annualreport2020.