Council Corrects Misinformation
Bass Coast Shire Mayor, Cr Kimberley Brown, and Council CEO, Paul Buckley, have come out on the front foot to clarify various inaccurate comments and misinformation that have been provided in the public domain recently.
Cr Brown said it is always disappointing when misinformation gets presented as facts.
“We respect the right of individuals to voice their opinions, however when facts are blurred by individuals’ opinions, it is important that the correct information is made available to everyone.”
In order to clarify the various misinformation, Mr Buckley has provided the following comments.
Council, particularly in the last 12 months, has committed to a number of things; the first of those is the Long Term Financial Plan that will deal with financial sustainability.
That was flagged in last year’s budget, and they also committed to a review of the rating strategy.
Whilst the Strategic Resource Plan incorporated into the 2014/15 Budget assumed rate increases of between 5.6 and 6.6 per cent over the next three years, the preparation of a long-term financial plan will determine the actual rate revenue required to achieve responsible asset management, efficient service delivery and the long-term financial sustainability.
The Long Term Financial Plan to be considered by Council at a special meeting on Wednesday, 11 March proposes an average operating increase of 4.7 per cent. Both the plan and draft Rating Strategy will be released next week for community consultation.
These commitments, made in the last 12 months, have been delivered in the time they were committed to.
Compared to like large rural and Gippsland councils, rates in Bass Coast are on average $414 lower per assessment. Additionally, the same benchmarking data shows that Council’s expenses are over $500 less per assessment. This data clearly demonstrates that Council is one of the lowest rating and lowest spending councils in Victoria.
One of the issues identified with the current rating strategy is farm rates.
Whilst farmers represent 3.6 per cent of rateable properties and currently pay 7.5 per cent of all rates and charges, the value of farm properties (the basis of rating properties) represents over 10 per cent of the value of all properties.
Farmers have been actively advocating for a farm differential rate in Bass Coast for the last few years. In response to this, Council has actively engaged with the farming sector to understand their concerns.
One of the actions taken by Council was to establish a Rural Engagement Group in 2013, as an advisory group, to assist in understanding issues facing the farming community.
One of the issues that have been discussed by this group has been a differential farm rate. This proposal will be included in the discussion paper related to the Rating Strategy.
Claims such as our staff receiving 8.9 per cent pay increase is completely irresponsible and in fact insulting to our staff.
Our enterprise agreement, like most others, negotiated three years ago provides a four per cent increase. A new agreement will be negotiated later this year and will be consistent with agreements recently negotiated in the industry.
Other employee increases are associated with new staff servicing a growing municipality.
We invite interested persons, like Mr Brown, to make a submission in response to the Long Term Financial Plan, the Rating Strategy and to the 2015/16 Budget when it’s released in a few months.
All of the misinformation recently published is addressed in these documents.
In regards to senior officers, a recent realignment of the organisational structure has resulted in a senior management team of 13 officers, compared to 15 previously. Additionally, savings in employee costs achieved through the realignment in the order of $300,000 will be delivered this year.
In the 21st century, it is ludicrous to think that Council would discriminate against people on the basis of where they were previously employed. In fact, any such practice would be illegal.
We appoint people based on merit to ensure the best person for the job is recruited.
Like all of our recruitment processes, in the most recent recruitment of senior officers we went through an open and transparent process.
Additionally, in this particular instance, we also utilised the services of an independent professional recruitment company.
The first step in this process was for the independent company to shortlist candidates.
A thorough interview process was then undertaken, including the independent recruitment company and one of Council’s existing General Managers, to ensure we made an independent assessment of applicants.
All of the people on the selection panel were unanimous in deciding who should be appointed.
The claim five staff have recently been recruited from Latrobe City Council is incorrect. One current, one former, and one from over 11 years ago and has since been at metropolitan councils, have been appointed.
These people went through the same process as all candidates and were shortlisted by the recruitment company based on their skills and experience, and their capacity to introduce organisational change.
We are right in the process of organisational change, cultural change and Council initiated change as we speak, and that will continue over the next couple of years.
The simple fact is Council’s planning processing times have improved by over 100 per cent in the last few months.
This time 12 months ago we were processing about 35 per cent of our planning applications within the 60 day time period; we’re now at almost 70 per cent.
This is significant improvement and I’m proud of the staff that have been involved in the progress that we’ve made.
Council has received a number of major development applications in the last few months, which demonstrates that developers and business operators want to do business in Bass Coast Shire. These applications include a $10 million unit development in Inverloch; a $7 million health and wellness facility in Newhaven; a $6 million milk processing plan in Kernot; and a 94 lot subdivision, plus an integrated housing site in San Remo.
We also have over 120 active planning applications by people wanting to invest in our municipality.
Public Relations Consultant
One initiative committed in this year’s budget, is the commencement of a Communications and Engagement Strategy.
This Council has recognised that it needs to be out there talking to its community better than it has done in the past and it’s committed to that.
This strategy will ensure we provide every opportunity for our community to have input into major strategies, major policies and plans, and most importantly, the long term financial sustainability of the municipality, and those opportunities will be presented in the next couple of weeks.
Through an open and competitive tender process, we have appointed CPR Consultants.
CPR’s role is to assist us in the development of the strategy. They will work with Councillors, the community and our staff to develop that strategy in an effort to be more open, to be more engaged with our community, and to make sure our community has a say in the sorts of changes we’re making, and in the strategies and plans we’re developing for the future.
Work on the strategy begun this week.
The work being undertaken with CPR has nothing to do with Council’s image; rather it is about asking the community how best Council can engage with them.
Waste Management Strategy
Council’s current waste management arrangements and contracts are due to expire in June 2016.
Council will be preparing, in consultation with the community, a new waste management strategy aimed at addressing the needs of the community.
All waste management issues, including transfer stations, will be considered as part of this strategy.
Cr Brown said she sincerely hopes that in providing these facts, Council has been able to clear up any misinformation published in recent times.
“We welcome community engagement and debate on key issues, and we encourage members of the community to speak with Council on matters of fact so that we all get the maximum benefit from public discussion,” Cr Brown said.