Hepburn Council has released its draft budget for community consultation.

Council is planning to spend $58 million next financial year, an increase of of $15 million over this year, mainly because State and Federal funding has increased by over $15 million.

Key projects proposed in the budget include

  • Renewal of the Creswick Town Hall ($681,000)
  • Construction of the Trentham Community Hub ($4.4 million)
  • Upgrading the Bularto Railway Station ($277,000)
  • Investment in Council Buildings ($220,000)
  • Construction of leisure and community facilities ($2.3 million)
  • Road funding ($3.8 million)
  • Bridge renewal ($3.2 million)
  • Footpaths, carbs and cycleways ($1 million)

Storm damage in the past year has put a significant dent in the Council finances. About $7 million in additional costs are associated with the storms.

Small rural councils like Hepburn struggle to make ends meet. Hepburn has a population of only 16,000 people, spread over Daylesford/Hepburn Springs, Creswick, Clunes and Trentham. Each wants its own hall, pool, library, child care, senior citizens and recreational and sporting facilities. And there are 1400 kilometres of roads and a range of bridges, kerbs and footpaths to be maintained.

Government grants are critical to the Council’s financial sustainability. About a third of spending comes from them. Without grants it would be difficult to maintain and upgrade community infrastructure and assets.

Council says that rates and charges make up about two thirds of Council revenue ($25 million).

The Victorian State Government doesn’t trust Councils to make their own financial decisions so it caps Council rate increases and then uses discretionary grants to make up the difference.

Next year rates will increase by 1.75 percent. Annual property valuations will determine who pays for this increase.

The draft budget includes annual waste charges. It is proposed that they will go up by 12 percent or about $56 per property for a total of around $535 per year.

The budget does not identify any funding for community facilities that were planned for the now abandoned Daylesford hub, including the library, a customer services centre, staff accommodation and an auditorium.

There is money ($263,000) for more planning work on an aquatics strategy.

Overall the Council is budgeting for a surplus of $12 million next year, but this positive result is heavily influenced by reimbursements for storm damage this financial year.

It is better to look at the picture over the medium term. Council is being cautious and conservative over the next four years.

Council is generally budgeting for an annual operating surplus of around 10 percent per annum. Rates are anticipated to go up by about 8 percent over that period, while expenditure is planned to remain steady. Government grants are projected to go down.

Hepburn Shire is diverse and changing. A number of areas are experiencing dramatic demands for tourism, renewable energy, regional relocation, retirement and work-from-anywhere relocations. This puts pressure on education, health care, aged care, child care, housing and transport and on the infrastructure needed to support them.

While there is discussion of the Council’s 10 year plan, there is little analysis of the overall economic and social conditions for the Shire, nor of emerging future needs and opportunities for revenue growth to meet them.

The draft budget is available on the Participate Hepburn website.

Copies of the budget are also available at Council libraries.

Tim Drylie and Bradley Thomas the Council Chief Executive Officer will hold a webinar to present the budget and answer questions on the Council’s Facebook page from 5.30 pm to 6.30 pm on Wednesday May 18.

Questions can also be emailed by 5pm on Tuesday 17 May.