SHOULD money generated by the sale of council property only be used in the specific community in which that property was sold?
That was the question raised by Cr Rhonda Sanderson during last month’s Mitchell Shire Council meeting.
Council sought to adopt a revised financial reserves policy, which governs the maintenance of financial reserves to meet future council obligations and requirements.
The revised policy outlined a property proceeds reserve, in which the proceeds derived from the sale of council properties would be used primarily to fund strategic land acquisition, as well as new capital works, capital works upgrades and debt reduction.
Cr Sanderson moved to add an additional stipulation to the property proceeds reserve that ‘proceeds of the sale of land are to be utilised in the town from which the sales proceeds were generated’.
She said the practice made land sales easier for the public to accept.
“Towns are very attached to their particular parks and buildings and I know from personal experience of the past nine-and-a-half years that we’ve certainly had issues when there has been discussion of selling off bits of community parks or utilising parks for other purposes that aren’t recreational,” she said.
“Although the amounts of money we’re talking about are quite small in the older parts of the shire, in the newer parts they can be quite valuable – into the millions [of dollars] I’d say.
“To help the community I’ve found it’s valuable to be able to say ‘yes, we’re going to sell off this little bit of land … but we’ll do something special with it in the town’. The message it sends to the community is important.
“Imagine a world where this didn’t happen and a piece of a park comes up for sale in Wallan. If we said … we don’t know where the money is going, I really don’t think it’s going to go well.”
Cr David Lowe opposed Cr Sanderson’s motion, saying it would set a dangerous precedent.
“The idea of ring fencing certain items of cash coming into the coffers is just not acceptable,” he said.
“We are here to represent the whole of the shire, and the idea of running separate bank accounts for different parts of the shire is just not acceptable.
“We could never start talking about only spending rates that are raised in one part of the shire in that part of the shire.
“There are so many ramifications of this type of a process that I cannot support this amendment.”
Cr Sanderson said retaining money generated in certain parts of the shire to be spent there was already part of some council practices.
“The argument that we don’t do this sort of thing in other areas is not correct,” she said.
“When we collect developer contributions, they are to be spent in that locality. It has to be spent there.”
Cr Sanderson’s motion was passed, with her, Mayor Bill Chisholm, Cr Louise Bannister, Cr Fiona Stevens and Cr Nathan Clark voting in favour and Cr Lowe, Cr Rob Eldridge, and Cr Cornish opposed.