At the Special Council meeting on 15th November 2022, I was privileged to be elected Deputy Mayor for the coming year. I’m pleased to be able to support the newly elected Mayor, Cr Brian Hood, from Coliban Ward, in his role.

Cr Hood and I worked well together in 2021 when our roles were reversed. Those of you who follow Council and are familiar with our budget and financial reporting will know that Hepburn Shire is highly dependent on state and federal government grants in order to undertake any new projects and that we have a very low level of unrestricted cash.

In the past two years we have had COVID, the June 2021 storms that impacted on over 30% of the Shire, particularly in the east, the January 2022 floods impacting the west and the most recent period of excessive rain which has severely damaged many of our roads. Residents have a right and an expectation that Council will assist when these events occur and officers have done a good job particularly in cleaning up after the extraordinary weather events and supporting the community with storm recovery events, all the while continuing the day to day service provision.

These events highlight why, in order to do this, we as your Councillors need to ensure that our finances are sound. As well, construction costs have escalated. What this means is that money is tight, and we will have to prioritize spending and defer or cancel some of the projects that we, and you, might want to do sooner.

The Victorian State election will be held on 26th November and early voting has already commenced. There are early voting Centres in Kyneton and Ballarat.

The Daylesford Hospital Upgrade Committee (which I chair) is awaiting the outcome of the election. The Liberal Party has promised $75m, if elected, to enact the master plan. The Greens and Tania Maxwell from the Justice Party have also indicated support for the upgrade.

The Daylesford Hospital precinct has acute wards, community nursing, aged care, community health and provides a range of services such as dialysis. Despite a fine workforce, our buildings are deteriorating. In Hepburn Shire our risk factors for poor health outcome are amongst the highest in the state for both our children and our adults. We have an older population, and the reality is that older people have increased health needs. And for our children, investment in their health at a young age pays off throughout their lifespan. Local, up to date infrastructure not only supports the community, but it does help attract and retain the required workforce. Whatever the outcome of the election, the need for the hospital precinct upgrade will remain and we will need to continue to attract support.

Red Rock, a mining company, are proposing to undertake exploration work in the Ajax Road area and have had meetings with adjacent property owners to the proposed exploration works. Red Rock representatives have also met with council officers to brief them about the proposed exploration. Council has no ability to stop exploration works on public land which is controlled by and governed by the state government via the Mining Warden and the Department of Mining Industry Regulation and Safety. However, if the exploration work results in a proposed mining activity there are several approvals and triggers where Council may be better placed to take further action. There are concerns about the potential impact on mineral water and ground water levels. Council will continue to provide the community with information as it becomes available and work to protect our environment and water resources.

Finally, last weekend, I went along with hundreds of others to the Musk Open Gardens (supporting the Daylesford Spa Country Railway) and the Creswick Open Gardens. We are so fortunate to have such wonderful gardeners in our Shire who are prepared to open up their gardens and share their knowledge with others. Bank House at Newlyn (675 Newlyn Rd) will be open on Sunday 20th November and it’s another opportunity to see this beautiful garden.

Cr Lesley Hewitt is an elected Councillor for Birch Ward.

Councillor Columns are a regular feature in The Wombat Post. We offer this space as an information channel from Council to the community. Councillor Columns are not subject to editorial review by our editorial committee but are published as we receive them from our elected Councillors.