By Colin MacGillivray

MITCHELL Shire leaders have voiced their disappointment at last week’s state budget after the government again baulked at providing funding for a Kilmore bypass.

The government had previously committed to acquiring land for a bypass by the 2019-20 financial year, but will not reach that goal until at least 2022-23 after deferring funding in the budget.

The government committed $900,000 of an estimated $16 million land acquisition cost.

Member for Euroa Steph Ryan slammed the government for reneging on its prior commitments.

“It’s not just a lack of money for the bypass. The fact is that they’ve actually delayed spending the money that was put in the budget three years ago until 2023,” she said.

“We had the opposition come up in 2014 and claim that the project wasn’t going anywhere and Labor was going to make sure that it all happened, and here we are in 2021 and they’re now telling us they don’t even plan to complete that process until June 2023.

“It’s just a complete joke.”

Mitchell Shire Mayor Rhonda Sanderson said council had hoped for more from the budget.

“We are disappointed by the delay in funding for, and completion of, the land acquisition for Kilmore bypass,” she said.

“This is an important project for community, and we will continue to advocate to the State Government for its delivery.”

Cr Sanderson said other budget initiatives such as a statewide $3.8 billion overhaul of Victoria’s mental health system and $1.6 million for the Hilldene employment precinct near Seymour were welcome news but could have benefitted the region more.

“While we welcome the fantastic investment into mental health, and funding for the planning of the Hilldene Employment Precinct, Mitchell Shire still needs more assistance from our State Government counterparts to prepare for the future,” she said.

“We are Victoria’s fastest growing municipality and we are working hard to prepare for the future. We have identified that we need more help and services for mental health and more jobs.

“A larger funding commitment to the Hilldene project will help us access more local jobs but we need to work together.”

Ms Ryan said while she supported a reworking of Victoria’s mental healthcare system, and it was a ‘huge issue’ for the region, she did not approve of the government’s introduction of a mental health levy for businesses with a payroll of more than $10 million.

“I am concerned that the government’s plan to introduce their mental health tax stigmatizes mental health further. It should be a core government provision and I think funding mental health by creating a specific tax stigmatizes it,” she said.

“We don’t have a specific tax … if you need to go to hospital, so I would query why the government is putting in a tax for mental health.”

Ms Ryan said the budget focused on Melbourne’s urban fringe at the expense of rural areas in the north of Mitchell Shire.

“It’s a very high-taxing budget. Victoria now has the highest debt of any state in the country at about $156 billion. It’s going to mean that we will all be paying a lot more for a lot longer and I don’t see much money for our region,” she said.

“I think [the government has neglected] those infrastructure pressures and service pressures that we’re facing as a result of growth across the region.

Ms Ryan said funding for Wallan police station to be staffed 24 hours, and for Kilmore District Health to cope with a growing population were two examples of services which should receive funding.