I know that it’s traditional to reflect on the first 100 days of any new form of government, however this Council was sworn in on the 19th November, so the the end of March brings us to where we are now at 130 days of the new Hepburn Council.
With six first timers out of seven Councillors, the first couple of weeks involved a steep learning curve. Recognizing that, Council governance staff provided an excellent induction program while continuing with their usual tasks of running the business of the Shire.
One of the major factors influencing Council work to date has been the implementation of the 2020 Local Government Act. This Act requires all Councils to do several things in a very tight time frame. These include the development of a Community Engagement Policy, the development and adoption of a 4-year Council Plan and 10-year Council vision, the approval of a Councillor Code of Conduct and the establishment of a Gender Equity Committee. While this has been mandatory for all Victorian Councils, Hepburn Shire has put a considerable effort into consulting with citizens on the Community Engagement Policy (which has been adopted) and the 4 – Year Council and 10-Year Vision (which is still underway).
As well, Councillors have asked for a draft Affordable Housing policy and a report on establishing an LGBTQIA+ Committee. These initiatives are in response to community concerns and reports will be coming to Council in the next couple of months.
Councillors conducted a mid-year financial review. COVID has meant a reduction in income and increased costs and Council made the difficult decision to postpone 31 projects worth $2.7m, the largest component being the Daylesford Pool and Civic Complex worth $1.59m. Council has employed Otium Planning Group to develop an Aquatic Strategy for the whole Shire and Council felt that a delay was prudent given that the development might be superseded by recommendations in the strategy. Details of the 31 projects are on the Council web page.
Council also approved the C80hepb Planning Scheme. This has been a long and controversial project and it is not yet finalised. The scheme now must be approved by the Planning Minister. Council will organise community information sessions to explain what the changes mean to residents.
In the meantime, the usual Council decision-making has occurred – planning, community grants (including some funding for the Swiss Italian Festa), awarding of contracts (including approving more works on Wheelers Bridge) and so on.
Highlights for me have also included attending the Australia Day Eve Civic ceremony, the International Women’s Day Celebration, planting trees at Lake Daylesford as part of Chill Out’s Grove of Gratitude and meeting a range of residents at various community events.
I’m looking forward to the next 130 days which be focussed on finalizing the 4 Year Plan, finalizing the appointment of the new CEO and seeing progress with the Hepburn Hub at the Rex issues.
Cr Lesley Hewitt is one of the elected Councillors for Birch ward and is currently the Mayor of Hepburn Shire.