Report on Draft Council Budget

[By Sue Bolton] The draft Moreland council budget was passed at a council meeting on 26 April and is now out for community consultation for 28 days (details are on the website). The deadline for submissions is 26 May. 

The budget includes funding for a public toilet outside the Fawkner Library. This is something that the local community had been petitioning for. It also included funding for a Merlynston Linear Park, something which residents have also been campaigning for.

I supported an amendment to the budget for money to be allocated to fund the restoration of Merlynston Progress Hall. The Merlynston community has been campaigning for the restoration of Merlynston Progress Hall for eight years now. This heritage building has been becoming more and more dilapidated. Meanwhile the community is expanding rapidly with a number of new blocks of flats being built in the area. At the moment, the Merlynston Hall stores the council’s Christmas decorations.

The motion to fund the hall’s restoration was tied at 5:5, and lost on the casting vote of Greens Mayor Samantha Ratnam. This motion will come back to the final budget meeting.

Another amendment was moved for stage 2 of the Oxygen Youth Centre to begin construction in the 2016-17 financial year with stage 3 to be built in the following year. I supported this amendment because there is a real lack of affordable spaces for young people in Moreland to be able to use.

After losing an amendment to not increase fees and charges for community transport, HACC services, child care and leisure centre fees above the CPI, I voted against the draft budget. The budget included a 21% fee increase for community transport. The pensioners who use this service haven’t had a 21% pension increase.

It is also outrageous that the state government has a surplus, and yet the state and federal governments keep cutting grants to local government in a deliberate plan to force councils to either increase fees or charges and/or cut services. But councils have been gutless in not challenging this.

Liberal Party councillor Rob Thompson has welcomed the state government’s capping of rates, saying that it forces local councils to look elsewhere for funds and that councils should be “fee for service”.

There is clearly pressure from within council for Moreland to introduce fee-for-service model. I don’t agree with this approach. Governments at all levels should provide universal services.