Council budget plan goes public

Deputy Mayor Moira Neagle has broken ranks with her 11 fellow elected members on Wattle Range Council and criticised a key aspect of its 2021/22 draft budget.

If the proposals pass through the various approval processes, Wattle Range Council will have an outlay of $27.5m and operating deficit of almost $650,000 in 2021/22. However, Cr Neagle said $50,000 for drain maintenance outlined in the blueprint was inadequate.

The funds are needed to remove trees and debris from the Millicent township drain. Cr Neagle told the May 18 special council meeting called to endorse the public release of the draft budget that she was willing to go public with her criticisms.

According to Cr Neagle, such maintenance should not be overlooked but should be front-of-mind. Hers was the only voice raised in opposition to the draft budget during the debate which lasted only a few minutes.

Cr Dennis Muhovics queried the estimated 2% pay rise for the inside and outside staff. In reply, council chief executive Ben Gower said discussions to date with the two relevant unions had not unearthed any outrageous claims.

Mr Gower said he felt the 2% figure in the budget was appropriate. Among the items in the draft budget are a $16,000 outlay for two events at Beachport: a kite flying occasion and a new crayfish and wine festival. Around $173,000 has been earmarked for maintenance at the Millicent saleyards while $1.1m has been set aside for a new shed at the Millicent works depot.

It is anticipated council staff numbers will increase by 4.5 to the equivalent of 125.5 full-time employees. Councillors and senior staff have discussed the financial blueprint at numerous closed workshops over the past three months as well as going on a district inspection aboard a bus.

The Local Government Act mandates the public consultation obligations on all councils across South Australia with respect to the setting of their annual budgets. Written public comment closes on June 11 and verbal submissions will be heard at a special council meeting in Millicent four days later.

In his preface to the draft 2021/22 budget, Mayor Des Noll said the focus was the recovery from the COVID 19 emergency and development of strategies that capitalise on attracting residents and tourists to the area.

“In developing this Annual Business Plan, council encountered many competing demands for community projects, annual cost increases, and the ongoing requirement for asset renewals all need to be prioritised,” Mayor Noll said. “The challenge for Wattle Range Council is to deliver a budget that meets current and future community expectations whilst limiting any rate increases and minimising the impact to ratepayers under the current circumstances.

“In consideration of this, council is set to raise rates by 2.5% (plus growth from new developments. “The increase whilst above current Consumer Price Index (CPI) rates, it should be recognised that council has over the past six years minimised rating increases to CPI or less and over the past two years have not increased rates to assist our community through a challenging period.”

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