NONE of us want to pay any more than we have to for the services and facilities provided by local government, but not a single council could admit to being a fan of the state government imposed cap on council rates.
There are no votes in it for councillors – no one wins support for saying they want us to pay more, but the imposition firstly of a rates cap and then the adherence to the cap can only be justified if the other circumstances that add to the pressures upon local government are investigated, and more importantly addressed.
Five years ago, the independent review of the City of Greater Bendigo’s operations suggested ways to improve operations and services, saving a lot of money along the way.
The good work that came from the review was mostly implemented prior to a cap on rates.
Rate caps mean councils can no longer pass the added burden of cost that comes from cost shifting onto ratepayers, and while we might all rejoice that increases to our rates have been smaller in in recent years, the weight of that burden is only going to increase in the future.
Cost shifting from the state and federal governments costs Greater Bendigo millions of dollars annually.
It involves more of the costs to provide services such as libraries, school crossing supervisors and home and aged care services from one tier of government to another.
The local government sector is the big loser from this, and leaders from councils across the state are united in their pitch for change, fearing the gap between what they can and cannot fund will only continue to grow, leading to the eventual breakdown of some services, or the inability to fund others.
No one liked the five and six per cent rate increases year on year that were once common place in Bendigo, but as the impact of rates capping continues to bite, few of us will like what this means either.
In the five years since the independent review, the City of Greater Bendigo has restructured much of its operations and changed the way it delivers some services.
It has pulled back on others, and relatively speaking, it costs ratepayers less per person to run the city and provide and maintain services than it once did.
But council cannot exist as a veneer and there are many layers to what it does and doesn’t do.
Council will become increasingly reliant on the level of growth that has been a constant for much of the past decade, and on its ability to win funding for major capital works and infrastructure projects, if it is to keep pace with community needs and expectations.
Ultimately, it is we ratepayers who will lose, if indeed the trend continues and it becomes increasingly difficult for councils to do more with less.