Council has released its draft 2023/4 budget. Despite a drop in forecast surplus to a mere $3m+, and fraught economic conditions, council is roaring head with a $37M loan so that by the end of the next financial year, residents will find themselves in debt to the tune of $63M!!!!

Much is made of council’s claims about community consultation for the budget.  The claim is as follows:

We have listened to our community and understand their priorities and areas of focus for the draft 2023-24 Budget. This includes investment in maintenance of roads and footpaths, climate response initiatives and service provision (aged care, seniors, youth, family, children, disability, accessibility and pets). (page 54)

When we actually peruse the draft budget the above proves to be nothing more than spin! It raises the question of why even bother spending money on ‘consultation’ when resident views are so regularly ignored!

According to the consultation feedback, we learn that:

The top three categories where participants want Council to increase spending were:

o Maintenance for roads and footpaths

o Climate response initiatives

o Services (aged care, seniors, youth, family, children, disability, accessibility and pets)

The top three categories where participants want Council to reduce spending were:

o Business and community support

o Sport, leisure and recreation

o Climate response initiatives

Council’s response and assumed explanation of how resident views were incorporated into the budget comes with this paragraph –

Council has considered the community’s feedback on reducing spend in certain categories. More participants wanted more spending on climate response initiatives than less expenditure. The proposed budget, for consultation, provides $652k lift in spending for sport, leisure and recreation and $183k less spending for business and community support. (page 60)

The real slap in the face to residents comes with council’s response to the Urban Forest Strategy (UFS) and other sustainability projects. Surely the prime objective of the UFS is to increase our rapidly declining tree canopy. So how does this year’s funding for increased tree planting compare to last year’s budget? Here are the relevant screen dumps from the 2022/3 budget and the current proposals.

The tree planting component has dropped from $1.35M to $827,000. We do not know how many trees have, or will be replaced, nor how much each tree or sapling has increased in price. What is clear is that the number of tree plantings can only decline given this budget allocation. So much for increasing our tree canopy!!!!! Whilst one might argue that increasing maintenance and tree pruning is justified, is it justified to the extent of an extra one million dollars? And does this imply that previous maintenance was found wanting and insufficient?  

Also disturbing is the continual smoke and mirrors throughout the budget. It becomes near impossible to drill down and determine precisely what is proposed to be spent where. This is largely due to the fact that so many departments and services are lumped together without clear differentiation.

On footpaths we get:

In addition, footpaths are funded at $1.92m to ensure the continuation of the critical footpath renewal program, which is identified through Council’s inspection programs. The proposed allocation is based on current data on footpath condition and defects.

Yet in the 2022/3 budget we find the following:

Council’s budget allocation of $2.15m for footpaths ensures the continuation of the critical footpath renewal program, which is identified through Council’s inspection programs. The proposed allocation is based on current data on footpath condition and defects and includes $100k for enhancement of ‘Great Walking Streets’. (Page 154 – 2022/3 budget)

Making things even more clouded is council’s claim that the current capital works program includes $14M carry over from the previous budget. The financial report included in the current agenda tells us that the carry over includes $578,000 for the footpath allocation. Does this therefore mean that the newly proposed $1.92 allocation is really only $1.342M?

We also take issue with the following paragraph that is a verbatim repetition of what was in last year’s budget papers –

The City is substantially developed and while it is experiencing an increase in property numbers, these mainly arise from higher density developments. This impacts on the budget as Council has to deal with the replacement of infrastructure, such as drains, that cannot cope with the higher density. These costs cannot be passed on to the developer and are paid for from rates. The rates received from new dwellings do not offset the significant infrastructure costs.

In the 2016 Planning Scheme Review, the issue of introducing a Development Contributions Levy and a Community Infrastructure Levy was promised by council. Countless other municipalities have such a levy but not Glen Eira which allowed its previous levy to lapse close to a decade ago. It is now 2023 and we are still waiting for council to come up with such a levy in the face of massive development throughout the municipality. It should not take seven plus years to stop subsidising developers!!!!!

Perhaps the simplest way of highlighting what is proposed is to compare the previous budget with the current one. All highlighted red squares in the following images represent a decrease in proposed new capital works spending – apart from the ‘buildings’ component which has sky rocketed.

Finally, we have scoured the budget and been unable to find a single word regarding pensioner rebates on their rates. Readers will remember that this rebate has been reduced year after year so what started at $150 dwindled to a piddling $19 last year. No mention is made of this in the 2023/4 budget so we can reasonably assume that council’s largesse has finally come to a screaming halt. But that has not stopped council from implementing its ‘traditional’ price hikes on child care ($3 per day), rubbish bins ($46 for a 240 Litre bin) GESAC prices, etc. And rates of course have jumped to a 3.5% increase.

In our view budgets should include ‘efficiencies’ – where and how council is saving money. Contractor costs, staff costs, etc continue to climb despite the stated objective of reducing reliance on consultants. Instead all we get in this budget is spin, obfuscation, and a full system go on more and more major projects costing the earth. Surely not what the community consultation feedback wanted?!