Community satisfaction with the Hepburn Shire Council fell sharply in the past year. Council performance is now rated as below average. Community perceptions of the Shire’s performance are significantly lower than for comparable councils.
Residents’ ratings of Council performance fell 11 points from 56 to 45 from 2019 to 2020. The average score for small rural Councils like Hepburn is 56. A third of residents now see the Council performance as poor or very poor.
Each year the Council participates in the Local Government Community Satisfaction Survey. Between the end of January and mid-March, 400 residents completed telephone interviews about the Council’s performance over the past year. Around three quarters of residents surveyed had contact with the Council in the past 12 months.
Community satisfaction with the Council has been a problem for a number of years. From 2012 until 2017 satisfaction was well below the average for small rural Councils. There was an improvement in 2018 and 2019 but performance ratings have now fallen back to previous low levels.
Residents thought the most important areas of service were waste management, slashing and weed control, environmental sustainability, the appearance of public areas, planning and building permits, recreational facilities, business and community development, the enforcement of local laws and tourism development.
The Council under-performed on nearly all areas of operation compared with other small rural Councils across nearly all demographic groups in the community.
Only 12% of residents thought the Council’s direction had improved in the past 12 months, with 39% saying it had deteriorated.
The Shire’s worst areas of performance were seen to be in how they made community decisions, consultation and engagement with the community and in lobbying on behalf of the community.
Over the past two years the most significant area concern about Council decision making has been over the Shire’s handling of the Community Hub project in Daylesford.
The Hub has had a major cost over-run, a failure to get a planning permit and poor project management leading to a multi-year delay. Following the appointment of the new CEO, Evan King, the Council invited the Victorian Local Government Inspectorate to investigate the Council’s management of the project.
Clearly residents feel Council needs to improve its performance across the board in the coming year and particularly in its decision making, consultation and lobbying.
In his report to Council on the disappointing survey results, Evan King, the Council CEO indicated that for the future, “it is important to focus on consulting residents in Council decision-making.”
At the Council meeting on Tuesday, there was surprisingly little comment or questioning of the results or discussion about how community satisfaction can be improved.
Mr King noted that despite the low community satisfaction, the Council produced a range of excellent services for a small rural council and that there would be an opportunity to reset the relationship with the community after the Council elections later this year.
The recently revised local government act makes it a requirement for Council to consult with the community on important decisions. There is a strong case for Hepburn Council to consider new approaches for community consultation, including community panels and the use of virtual and digital strategies.
The full survey results for the Hepburn Shire Community Satisfaction Survey are available on the Council website.