Hepburn Shire Council adopted a $49.59 million budget for 2022/23 at its Ordinary Meeting this week.  The budget contains a total revenue increase of $8.71M or 21 percent on the previous budget due to a considerable injection of State and Federal capital grants and stimulus project funding, along with reimbursement of the high costs related to storm recovery.

The 2022/23 budget paints a difficult picture for Council. Future financial sustainability to meet the communities expectations depends on  securing massive levels of grant funding from state and federal governments and this presents a potential risk. Next year $21m of the total projected revenue of $50m must come from grants.

Small rural councils like Hepburn are amongst the least financially sustainable in Victoria. They struggle to meet community aspirations for services and infrastructure and in the medium term, their sustainability is precarious.

Nevertheless, Mayor, Cr Tim Drylie said he was proud of this budget and the extensive work that has gone on behind the scenes by Councillors and staff.

“This is a responsible budget that aims to achieve actions identified in our Council Plan, whilst balancing community expectations and the physical and financial resources available to Council,” said Cr Drylie.

“We have had a particularly challenging couple of years and we acknowledge the significant social and economic impacts of COVID and severe weather events in our Shire,” he said.

Despite the Council’s difficult financial situation, the $49.59M budget includes $18.76 million of capital works and makes a number of commitments, mainly due to $13 million in stimulus funding from State and Federal Governments.

Major projects in the budget include renewal of the iconic Creswick Town Hall ($681,000), construction of the Trentham Community Hub ($4.4 million, including $2.5 million in grants), works to upgrade the Bullarto Railway Station ($277,000), and investment in Council building renewal program ($220,000) and the Creswick Mechanics Institute ($170,000).

Council has allocated $3.4 million towards recreational, leisure and community facilities, including construction of the Hammon Park trailhead ($1.4 million) to complement the Creswick Trails development, building renewal and repair works for the Lee Medlyn Bottle Museum in Clunes ($459,000), a playground for Jubilee Lake ($144,000), floor renewal at Hepburn Pavilion Café ($120,000), and works to enhance the visitor experience at Wombat Hill Botanic Garden in Daylesford ($188,000).

Council has also allocated $160,00o  towards implementation of the Aquatics Strategy, which includes initial work to develop a feasibility study for an indoor aquatics facility for the Shire.

$3.8 million will be spent on roads,. This includes $2.06 million for road rehabilitation and $1.05 million for road renewal, $200,000 on road upgrades, and $570,000 for a gravel road re-sheet program.

Council is allocating $640,000 for bridge renewal works on Creswick-Lawrence Road (subject to grant funding). $414,000 will be allocated for drainage and kerbing projects across the Shire.

In order to support active lifestyles, Council is investing $648,000 on footpath and cycleways improvement, renewal and extension. Projects are earmarked include Falls Road in Trentham, Ligar Street in Clunes, Williams Street in Creswick, East Street in Daylesford, and more.

Capital works spend is supplemented by $1.50 million in new borrowings from Council. Council’s debt position is low but uncommitted cash reserves will be under pressure and are likely to fall to less than a $1 million this year.

Services make up the other substantial part of the budget. Initiatives include the Positive Ageing Strategy, Disability Action and Inclusion Plan, Reconciliation and Gender Equality Action Plan in addition to  existing programs such as libraries, community grants, tourism, reconciliation and youth.

The budget also includes environmental measures, with Council allocating additional, new funding of $225,000 for initiatives relating to actions from the Sustainable Hepburn strategy across areas of climate change, natural environment and biodiversity, climate and water resilience, and low waste. This builds on funding already allocated and includes funding for a new Circular Economy Officer role to investigate and drive investment in circular economy initiatives relevant to the Shire.

To pay for new measures and to meet increased costs, residents will have to pay more. Rates will increase at 1.75% in line with the Victorian Government’s Fair Go Rates System. Council has not applied to the Essential Services Commission for a rate cap variation.

“We recognise that many households are experiencing ongoing financial challenges, particularly due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Cr Drylie.

Council will continue to fund an additional rates rebate of $21 for pensioners who qualify under the State Government’s Pensioner Rebate Remission scheme. Opportunities are also available for ratepayers to access Councils existing financial hardship supports already in place.

Waste charges will also increase on average by approximately 12%, or $56 per property per year, to meet increased service costs to users of the service. The standard annual fee for a residential property (weekly garbage collection and fortnightly recycling) will be $535 or the equivalent of $10.28 per week.

This increase allows for rising costs of waste management, global recycling challenges and payment of the State Government landfill levy. Additionally, Council has also had to factor in a significant increase in waste volume generated (approximately 20%).

View the Budget.