Dissatisfaction with the Hepburn Shire Council remains high, especially in Daylesford and Hepburn Springs according to the latest Local Government Community Satisfaction Survey.
Across the State, communities remain relatively critical of local government and overall local government performance is rated at only 59/100. But Hepburn Council’s performance of 47/100 compared to the average for similar small rural councils of 58/100 is particularly poor – effectively a fail.
When the figures are looked at more closely, there are significant differences in how the community rates Council on different elements of its performance. Customer service(61/100), tourism development (63/100) and waste management (61/100) are rated comparatively more highly. On the other hand, Council’s overall direction (39/100) and value for money (39/100) were rated very poorly.
There are substantial differences in satisfaction ratings across the Shire. Council had the highest rating in Cameron Ward, which includes Clunes, with an overall performance of 59/100. Coliban, which includes Trentham, remained steady compared to last year at 55/100. Satisfaction remained lower, but improved slightly in Holcombe, which includes Glenlyon, at 45/100.
Creswick saw substantial drop in community satisfaction with Council falling 10 points from last year to 46/100.
But Birch ward, centred on Daylesford and Hepburn Springs, received the worst ratings of Council performance by a significant margin. Council’s overall performance in Birch Ward dropped to 39/100.
The substantial fall in satisfaction in Birch ward may reflect the ongoing controversy on the Council’s mismanagement of the community hub at the Rex and its ongoing failure to meet demands for community services in Daylesford including the library, customer service centre and community cinema.
Releasing the results, Mayor Cr Tim Drylie said, “We expect the significant flooding and storm events over the last year, which impacted so much of our Shire, has influenced community satisfaction, as have major decisions such as our aged care transition, the Aquatics Strategy and The Rex. However, the results certainly give us an understanding of where the community would like us to improve, particularly around demonstrating value for money, reiterating council direction, sealed local roads, planning and building permits and council decisions.”
Community satisfaction with Hepburn Shire has been consistently at the bottom for the past decade compared to the State as a whole and to small rural Councils. Over that time, there has been little or no improvement. Hepburn Shire is consistently 10 points lower than the average for small rural councils. This raises the question as to why this continues to be the case.
Hepburn Shire was created through the amalgamation of a number of disparate, small communities with only limited connection to one another. Residents identify much more with their local town and community than the Hepburn Shire as a whole. Creswick identifies more closely with Ballarat, Trentham with Kyneton. Over the past three decades many of the local towns have seen considerable development and community expectations of Council performance have risen.
At the time of the creation of the Shire, Council inherited around 200 buildings, including pools and town halls, most of which were in poor condition. It has faced significant financial constraints that threaten its capacity to sustainably develop and maintain buildings, roads and infrastructure and deliver services the community expects. These problems have been compounded by on-going poor planning, decision making and management by Council.
Given the continuing dismal community ratings of the Council’s performance, it may be time for the Council to conduct a thorough review and hold an open and frank discussion with the community about the options for addressing the very significant underlying problems that Council faces. The alternative is to continue to bump along at the bottom of community satisfaction ratings.