The past month has seen a continuation of work on important matters that go the wellbeing of the Shire.
Housing affordability and availability remains a significant challenge for our community and it is imperative that our Shire secures funding that will help address the housing crisis. Our advocacy efforts in that area continue.Together with our CEO, Bradley Thomas, I have met with the Minister for Regional Development, Harriet Shing, and her advisers, seeking an equitable share of the funds available for critical housing and sporting infrastructure emanating from the cancellation of the Commonwealth Games.
Similarly, we continue to advocate, on behalf of the community, to protect the Shire against adverse consequences of development. We are advocating for a fairer outcome in the VNI West and WRL projects. I have held meetings with DEECA, the regulator Earth Resources and Red Rock on the matter of mineral exploration in the Shire, with an emphasis on protecting our valuable aquifers.
The past month has also seen the launch of the Greater Ballarat Alliance of Councils, a six-member body that strengthens the voice of local councils, including Hepburn Shire. A coordinated and collective approach to common issues, such as powerlines and mineral exploration, including advocacy with other levels of government, makes good sense.
This week, Council considered the Annual Financial Statement for the 2022/23 financial year. The statement quantifies the size and scale of another extensive capital works program – at $14.6m – building and renewing infrastructure for the benefit of the community. I congratulate staff on the delivery of these works, especially in the context of sharply rising costs, difficulties in the construction industry and tough economic conditions.
The financials also bring into sharp contrast the financial impact of numerous weather-driven storm and flood events. Their impact on Council’s workforce should not be underestimated. Work to repair our road network continues as the highest priority.
The financial statements transparently discloses the impact of numerous one-off and unusual events. That includes quantifying the cash loss of the disastrous Rex project. Acquired under dubious circumstances and against the community’s wishes in 2016 for $6.345 million, the building was disposed of in 2022/23 for $3.75m. Although those proceeds exceeded the building’s current valuation of $3.7 million, the net cash loss of $5.6m has caused long-lasting harm to Council’s financial position.
Our attention will now focus on the development of a long-term financial plan aimed at ensuring Council’s ongoing viability. The financial statements and the recently adopted budget for 2023/24 very clearly indicate to all Council stakeholders that the current and projected financial position is very constrained. We are a small regional council with very limited resources. Among other things the long-term financial plan will determine Council’s capacity to undertake major capital works. Securing grant funding for the ambitious array of projects will be essential.
On a lighter note, I congratulate Creswick Health on the remarkable milestone of 160 years of fund raising to support community health facilities. And I applaud the Daylesford Rotary club on their recent event to raise awareness of mental health.
Also on the good news side, Neil Para, who I welcomed to our Shire last month as he set off on his long walk from Ballarat to Sydney, has recently been granted permanent residency. On his journey to meet the PM, Neil was not only representing himself and his young family but also thousands of other refugees seeking a fairer and more certain future. Neil has already established himself as a valuable member of his community and on behalf of Council I extend our congratulations and best wishes.
Cr Brian Hood is the elected Councillor for Coliban Ward and is currently the Mayor of Hepburn Shire.
We offer this space as an information channel from Council to the community. Councillor Columns and Mayor’s Messages are not subject to editorial review by our editorial committee but are published as we receive them from our elected Councillors.