There has been a dramatic improvement in the detail and transparency of Council planning.
Following extensive consultation, the Council’s Community Vision and Council Plan is now available on the Hepburn Together website. The underpinning 10 year Financial Plan is now available for consultation until October the 6th.
But no plan can survive without the money to pay for it. The Financial Plan is a sobering read.
The Financial Plan makes it clear that the Council will struggle financially over the next two years and the pathway will be made more difficult by the uncertainties presented by COVID. There will be significant underlying Council deficits in the short term.
In the longer term, Council is faced with the challenges of all small rural shires – small dispersed communities, high infrastructure costs and insufficient scale to meet the challenges of delivering efficient services.
The State Government’s rate capping puts limits on the money Council can raise through rates. Even so, rate revenue is projected to grow by 37 percent over the 10 year period for the Plan. User fees are projected to grow by 53 percent.
While there has been a great deal of interest and engagement about the services and infrastructure Council should provide through the planning process, the financial plan says little about innovative options for funding new initiatives. Instead, there is a great deal of reliance on grants from State and Commonwealth governments.
In particular, the Shire has huge numbers of visitors who use local infrastructure and services but the plan has little to say about how visitors might make a greater contribution to fund Council services and infrastructure.
The Community Vision and Council Plan set ambitious goals. The 10 year financial plan suggests it will be a challenge to meet them.