Mayor Margaret O’Rourke, CEO Craig Niemann and corporate performance director Keryn Ellis outline the budget. Photo: ANDREW PERRYMAN

 

RATEPAYERS will be asked to carry the weight of increasing waste costs in a City of Greater Bendigo budget that also puts more resources to the unglamorous use of renewing assets rather than building shiny new ones.

Councillors are warning that ratepayers will need to change their behaviour around waste disposal if they don’t want to see charges continue to rise.

The market upheaval caused by China no longer buying recyclables, which has led to most Australian shires increasing waste costs, will speed up discussions about long-term waste solutions, including expensive waste to energy infrastructure, according to the council.

“We are doing some careful homework,” strategy and growth director Bernie O’Sullivan said.

Deputy mayor Jennifer Alden is warning against rushing to a high cost solution when “we are not addressing behaviour change and other opportunities to use waste as a
resource”.

Councillor Andrea Metcalf said at Wednesday night’s meeting when the draft budget was released for public comment: “Unless we change our habits as a community, this (waste expense) will continue to increase.”

Major and capital works remain the biggest expense category for council next year.

Of the $40 million the council has set aside for major and capital works next financial year, more than $33m will be spent on renewing some of the council’s $1.6 billion in assets, including roads and footpaths.

Of that $33m, $3m will go to maintaining facilities, such as town halls and parks, on state government land typically operated by volunteer committees of management which chief executive Craig Niemann and mayor Margaret O’Rourke say are routinely ignored when they ask for funding.

“They won’t get fixed, it will go round and round because it sits with the state government, not with us, but we end up paying for it because the community needs it,” Cr O’Rourke said.

The budget includes funding for some new infrastructure projects in the city such as a pop-up park, new female changerooms at the QEO and an upgrade at the Garden Gully Hockey Pavillion.

But waste services have emerged as a cost pressure that could increase over time, that council will pass onto ratepayers as an 11 per cent hike next year, way above the 2.25 per cent rate increase in line with the rate cap set by the state government and in excess of an increase in most other charges of about two per cent in line with inflation.

The rise amounts to an average additional $40 cost a year for waste disposal, $25 attributable to the upheaval in the recyclables market which saw China pulling out as a buyer.

Corporate performance director Kerryn Ellis said the rest of increase was attributable to levies imposed by the Environment Protection Authority on landfill, which in Bendigo’s case included clean fill which it has had to truck into Eaglehawk as it runs out of room.

“The other element is like all councils, we have a history of former landfills that over time we will need to remediate so they can be used for other purposes,” Ms Ellis said.

“Our waste charge as a whole seeks to put a little aside for that every year, but we do have some landfills that we need to take action on in the next two to three years.”

Ms Ellis said 2018-19 was a year of property revaluation, so the increase in rates could vary depending on the valuation adjustment for each property.

The other significant change in the budget from previous years is the reliance on rates for income.

Rates will make up for 60 per cent of income for the council in the coming year, rather than being overshadowed by capital grants obtained from state and federal governments for some of the major projects delivered in Bendigo in the past two years.

Mr Niemann said the proportions for 2018-19 were more typical of a local government budget than has been the case, when the council had chased funding to pay for big ticket items, many of which will be completed this year.

“We have been trying to finish those projects and we haven’t been as active chasing money down because we want to get them done, we want to have a year of consolidation and then we will look at years to come,” he said.

– Sharon Kemp