THE draft budget released last night by the City of Greater Bendigo offers a “business as usual’’ package of projects and priorities for ratepayers right across the municipality.
It’s a budget that bears the trademark of the new regime of capped rate rises and where there’s a lot less pain associated with rate rise spikes, but also a reduced level of capital works spending.
Projects are spread far and wide, and would appear to mirror many of the pressure points our city is experiencing around growth, particularly on the fringes of the city.
The lack of any major or relatively big ticket items is not so much a concern as it is a symptom of the new era the state government sought to impose on the local government sector.
Given the state government’s crackdown on the significant rate rises many councils had sought to impose on ratepayers until recent times, it seems the era of high spending, high taxing council budgets has passed, something many Victorians will be grateful for.
But within the thousands of words of budget narrative presented to local media on Wednesday was an ominous warning from Greater Bendigo mayor Margaret O’Rourke and chief executive officer Craig Niemann.
The rate cap is a potential future constraint to cities such as Bendigo where a rigorous annual growth rate of around 1.7 per cent could eventually be constrained by the council’s inability to raise the extra funds it might need to continue to provide infrastructure and services of a standard the rest of us are content with.
There’s no doubt the rates cap has forced council to look more closely at where its funds are spent and has led to a greater focus on essential services and programs that benefit a broad range of people within the community.
The move by the state government to introduce annual revaluations for all properties will also present some potential surprises to local residents whose property may have surged in value this past 12 months.
It’s worth remembering the rate charged on all properties is applied to the new Capital Improved Value of a property, as determined by an independent valuer, so if your home’s value has increased so too will your rates.
There is also strong support from councils across the state to lobby the state government in a bid to unlock more of the funding raised by a levy on waste and recycling.
Best described as a landfill levy on all waste disposed of at licensed landfills in Victoria, the amount charged by the government was increasing substantially almost a decade ago.
This was designed to provide the community with an incentive to improve their resource recovery, but there is unrest among councils that too little of the fund has been allocated back to where it needs to be spent.
Given the well documented problems the state’s recycling industry is now facing, unlocking more of this fund to help alleviate problems and support councils like our own in managing the waste that is in reality a problem created by every single one of us, would seem a practical and responsible thing to do.