‘Doozy’ of a budget: pandemic impacts council coffers

A two per cent average rate rise and a Covid-driven deficit look likely after Mount Alexander Shire Council this week voted to put the latest proposed version of its 20-21 budget out for public feedback.
The impacts of COVID-19 reverberate through this newly proposed $45.9 million budget, the result of rapid amendment to the council’s original draft budget in the wake of COVID-19 and its unprecedented impacts.
$11.74 million in capital works expenditure, boosted investment in tourism destination marketing, support for local section 86 committees to manage local sports facilities and reserves, and the waiving of certain registration and permit fees are all features of the virus-amended document.
“This was a doozy of a budget. We almost had it finished then Covid came along and blew it out of the water,” Cr Stephen Gardner said at Tuesday night’s meeting.
While the new document factors in a $3.4 million deficit – several councillors were at pains to point out that this figure appears misleadingly largely due to its inclusion of $2.75 million in Victorian Grants Commission funding – to be spent in the 20-21 financial year – having been already officially received this financial year.
“Don’t get hung up on the deficit because it’s partly a false deficit and partly a real deficit caused by our need to spend to get our shire working again,” Cr Bronwen Machin said.
Outside the meeting, Mayor Cr Christine Henderson also told the Mail that the $2.75 million which appears as part of an overall $3.4 million deficit in the proposed 20-21 budget is money the council has actually already recorded as receiving via the Victorian Grants Commission this financial year – while the balance of the deficit is earmarked on spend to help the shire recover from pandemic fallout.
Cr Dave Petrusma mentioned recent reports that some members of the public had been abusing council staff due to their personal anger over anticipated civic finances.
He and other councillors encouraged struggling ratepayers to make use of the financial hardship policy that the council has instated to support pandemic-impacted struggling ratepayers, residents, businesses and community groups.
“Ringing up and abusing our office staff is not the appropriate way to deal with it,” Cr Petrusma said, also urging those who take issue with the new proposed budget to make a submission.
The council will now advertise the new budget, will receive submissions up to 5pm on July 15 and will hear verbal submissions at an online meeting scheduled for July 28.
Local councillors will then be tasked with deciding whether to adopt the new budget at the ordinary council meeting on August 18.

Eve Lamb
Journalist and photographer Eve Lamb has a Bachelor of Arts (Journalism) degree from Deakin University and a Master of Arts (Professional Writing) from Deakin University. She has worked for many regional newspapers including the Hamilton Spectator and the Warrnambool Standard, and has also worked for metro daily, The Hobart Mercury, and The Sunday Tasmanian. Eve has also contributed to various magazines including Australian Cyclist.