Below is a compilation letter comprising

Please note that, should you wish to lodge a submission, all submissions must be lodged by close of business Friday 5 June 2020

 

May 20th 2020

Open Letter to Mayor Esakoff and Councillors of Glen Eira City.

Dear Mayor/Councillors,

We, as residents, asked questions of our local government representatives in response to the draft budget 2020-2021. Budgets are important documents as they are the basis for decisions that will be made in the coming years. They are not documents to be disregarded. We, as residents, are also stakeholders in Glen Eira City Council. Our Councillors have a duty to be responsible and to be accountable to their residents. We asked questions of our representatives in good faith. We are disappointed, yet again, that we received responses to our questions and NOT answers.

Below is your letter to us, (in italics), on behalf of the Councillors of Glen Eira.

We have highlighted in orange phrases that we see as important and our replies to your responses are in red text

Dear Bernadette,

I refer to your email dated 7 May  2020.

In preparing the draft budget for 2020-21, Council has taken into consideration the significant impacts on residents and businesses as a result of COVID-19. Service closures, emergency response, and financial concessions to sustain community resilience have all had a substantial impact on Council’s financial position.

On 7 April 2020, Council endorsed a $7.3m ‘COVID-19 Response and Recovery Package’ which contains a mix of both financial concessions and new initiatives for the Glen Eira community. In the 2019-20 financial year it will be resourced through re-prioritisation of existing budgets and the re-allocation of resources (staffing and budgetary) from activities now unable to be progressed due to COVID-19.  In 2020-21, Council’s operating and capital works budgets will also be significantly impacted by COVID-19.

Please find below responses to your specific questions:

a. Why does the value of land, which is integral to calculating rates revenue, increase by 8.8% in the 2020-2021 budget?

Council has committed to undertaking a significant strategic work plan over the 10 years of the Strategic Resource Plan, which includes completing a comprehensive update of the Glen Eira Planning Scheme and implementing our approach to place based planning and integrated transport.  New loans of $60m have been included in the Strategic Resource Plan to fund these strategic projects.  This is considered an appropriate funding source for long- term community assets.

We ask why $60 million is being borrowed, whilst the residents are still awaiting mandatory height limits in activity centre?

We ask why there is no funding in the budget for implementation of height limits on all activity centres? We are told to be patient and wait for strategic plans for our Neighbourhood Centres. We have been told that planning for Neighbourhood Centres will begin after the Major Activity Centres’ plans are finalised. When will this be?  Whilst we wait, we go to VCAT to try and stop the inappropriate high-rise development in our Neighbourhood Centres.

b. Why would a Council continue to decrease the Pensioner rebate on Council rates?

Ratepayers are entitled to a total pensioner rebate of $270 (if eligible), which includes Council’s contribution of approximately $29.  Council previously agreed to hold the total pensioner rebate at $270, with Council’s contribution to the pensioner rebate determined by the portion of the State Government’s contribution.

Clinging to a total pensioner rebate of $270 since 2001 ignores current realities of ever-increasing rates and costs. Whilst the State Government has increased its contribution to the pensioner rebate (reviewed yearly), Glen Eira has each year decreased its contribution. How does Council explain the ethics of such actions when 14% (at least) of its constituents are pensioners? The subsidy provided by Council in 2006/7 was $104.70 and in 2020/21 will only be $29.

How does Council explain the ethics of such actions when 14% (at least) of its constituents are pensioners?

Why does council not help the most vulnerable in our society, especially in these times of Covid-19?

c. Why would a Council raise the cost of Waste collection by 15-18%?

Council’s policy is to levy waste and recycling charges on the basis of cost recovery. This is consistent with the position of the majority of Councils given that waste charges are outside the Minister’s Rate Cap. The 2020-21 budget reflects the recovery of increased contractor expenses for waste and recycling charges.

Surely in this time of hardship, Council has the ability to change that policy!!! (Bayside Council have a 1% increase). Has there been a competitive tender process for this contract? We would like to understand how, in this period of massive unemployment that the contractor would have fees increasing 15-18%?

d. Why does the value of land, which is integral to calculating rates revenue, increase by 8.8% in the 2020-2021 budget?

The current revaluation is effective as at 1 January 2020.  A general revaluation of all properties in the Municipality occurs every year and reflects the market valuation of properties with an effective date of 1 January.  This general revaluation is authorised and signed-off by the Victorian Valuer-General.  A revaluation which shows rising (or falling) property values has no effect on Council’s total rate income.

We, as residents understand how this works. We are interested why, in the middle of a covid-19 pandemic, with the economy suffering, the Council does not adjust its expectations according to the reality of what is happening? Melbourne Council has just announced a zero-rate increase!

We would also like to know how a revaluation does not influence Council’s total rate income when our rates are increasing with each valuation

e. Why should supplementary rates and Waste/Recycling increase by 25% and 15% respectively?

Supplementary valuations occur when: properties are physically changed, for example, when buildings are constructed, renovated, extended, altered or demolished. The income received for supplementary valuations is outside of the rate cap calculation and is an estimate only for properties that are likely to have supplementary adjustments performed in 2020-21.

Yes, we understand HOW you have increased the supplementary rates. Our question was WHY you would do so, knowing your constituents are living in dangerous economic times.

Where is the concern for the residents of Glen Eira?

As mentioned in point c), Council applies waste and recycling charges on the basis of cost recovery.

f. Why are employee costs increasing 3.55% and contractor payments increasing 3.7% in these austere times?

Employee costs include all labour related expenditure and on-costs such as allowances, leave entitlements and employer superannuation. The increase in employee costs is represented by: Increase for Council’s Enterprise Agreement – $2.04m; new positions to support development in Council Services $1.57m (partially offset by increased income and diversion from consultancy spend); award increases and increases in hours and allowances – $1.26m. These increases are offset by a $2m reduction attributable to the closure of services due to COVID-19.

Contractor costs relate mainly to the provision of Council services by external providers. External contractors are expected to increase mainly due to: Waste Management contract costs, overall increase of $1.83m. These cost increases are recovered from waste management fee income. In addition, Council has budgeted for Election costs of $750k.

Surely, in these times, when jobs are scarce or have  ceased to exist, there would be competitive tenders sought. This is not a time for growth in wages Residents would like to know the names of the external contractors and the cost to the ratepayers.

Council’s reporting on contracts awarded is negligible.

In 2019 there were 37 in camera items of which the Council provided residents with only 19 of these decisions. That is a bare pass mark of 51%-hardly transparent nor accountable, we believe.

g. Why are $3 million in employee costs capitalised, which is an increase of $0.5 million from the 2019-2020 budget? What programs justify this change?

Salaries are capitalised when the salary relates directly to a capital works project.  These costs are directly attributable to the actual construction/development of the project including the design. This is an accounting treatment only and there is no impact on Council’s operating result.

Would Council please provide a list of proposed capital works so that residents know what projects require $3 million of labour?

h.  The rate revenue assumptions are based on an additional approximately 1,000 homes. How has this been calculated?

The estimated increase in the number of assessments is attributable to a forecast increase in development across the municipality. This may or may not occur during 2020-21 and is difficult to forecast.

We acknowledge that Council had a forecast. What considerations were involved in developing that forecast? Does Council rely on previous forecasts? Does Council understand the predicament we all are currently trying to survive?

i.  Why is there a loss on disposal of assets each year?

These amounts are difficult to predict when the budget is set. Items include disposal of: buildings, road surfaces, pavements, kerb and channels, footpaths, drains, right of ways and local area traffic management. These items are accounting in nature and have no impact on Council’s operating result.

Surely there would be calculations based on evidence that the residents can be shown. The times of gut feeling predictions are over.

j.  Why does the budget not include provision for purchasing land required so desperately for open space within Glen Eira?

Council considers land acquisitions as these arise. Council has provided $33m over the next 10 years in the Strategic Resource Plan for Open Space Strategy expenditure.

         Does the budget allow for the purchase of NEW Open Space in Glen Eira?

Over the past 10 years only 15% of the Open Space Budget has been spent on acquisition of new open space. We, the residents know that Glen Eira has the least amount of Open Space per capita in the State.

When will Council address this issue?

k.  In the Cash Flow Statement, the PPE is down $2.9 million in 2019-2020 forecast v budget and down a further $5 million in the 2020-2021 budget. Why is this?

This line item reflects the estimated cash component of payments for property, plant and equipment. The movement is dependent on physical cash payments for capital works projects and will vary to the amounts shown in the capital works statement which is based on actuals and accrual accounting. The reduction in 2020-21 reflects a lower capital works program to both address the financial impacts caused by COVID-19, and the quantity of work Council will be able to deliver due to issues that may impact the availability of contractors and the nature of the work that can be undertaken.

This seems at odds with the increase in employer costs capitalized (see question g). Could you explain how this increase occurs when the capital works budget is ‘down a further $5 million’?

l.  The drop in capex or depreciation or loss on sale of assets does not seem to account for the large fall in the asset value. Why would this be?

Property, infrastructure, plant and equipment is the largest component of Council’s worth and represents the value of all the land, buildings, roads, vehicles, equipment, etc. which has been built up by Council over many years. The increase in this balance is attributable to the net result of the capital works program ($37.15m of new assets), depreciation of assets ($25.59m) and the disposal of property, plant and equipment ($1.72m).

Please note that Council is required to value assets that are not subject to depreciation and amortisation costs. These assets include: land, land under roads and art collections.

This does not appear to account for the reduction of asset value.

m.  There is no over-arching management commentary that explains the flow of the numbers. Why not?

The budget provides detailed commentary for any material variations and is in accordance with the model budget and legislative requirements. If you would like explanation of other items in the budget please advise.

Whist the information provided may meet the minimum statutory requirements, as ratepayers and stakeholders, we are dissatisfied by the lack of transparency in the commentary provided.

n.  Will Glen Eira Council commit to establishing a formal deliberative community panel to provide feedback on residents’ priorities PRIOR to the drafting of annual budgets and SRPs? This panel would enable direct and open discussion between residents, Councillors and Council officers, unfiltered by outside contract agencies.

Each year, Council engages in a detailed deliberation of the Budget, Community Plan and Strategic Resource Plan.  This is informed through previous thorough consultation with the community as part of establishing the Community Plan.  In addition, Council is now developing a vision for the community which will provide guidance for creating a future Glen Eira. Council is seeking to develop a vision with the community and for the community to provide a clear direction for strategically creating a future Glen Eira.

Using a comprehensive engagement process, Council wants to understand the aspirations and priorities that create and achieve our Community Vision. This will be based on evidence of current and future community needs and will be used to guide the strategic actions into the future.

The 2020-21 Budget, Community Plan and Strategic Resource Plan have been released to the Community for consideration.  The Community can provide feedback on these documents until Wednesday, 10 June 2020. Submissions received to the proposed Budget and Council and Community Plan commitments will be considered by Council at an Ordinary Council Meeting on Tuesday 16 June.

Unfortunately, council’s response to this question makes it clear that there is no intention of interacting in a genuine consultative fashion with the community. ‘Feedback’ according to both the Victorian Auditor General, and the International Association of Public Participation, deem that ‘feedback’ represents the lowest rung of any ‘consultation’. It is simply ‘informative’ rather than genuinely seeking community views. Here is what the 2017 report by the Auditor General concluded:

“We found…councils have already made their decisions before conducting public participation activities, and they simply wanted to communicate that decision to the public or seek opinions on the decision.”

The reality is that Glen Eira Council has failed to adopt any of the recommendations or viewpoints that residents offer on the budget. A public question asked on the 15th June 2015 was:

“Could Council please provide full details of any variations Council has made to its annual draft budget in each of the last five years in direct response to submissions from members of the public. In other words, please itemise any changes that council has endorsed because of submissions in the past five years.”

We know the answer.

o.  Will Glen Eira Council establish online forums for residents, thus facilitating open discussion which would be freely available to all, on major project expenditure prior to any council resolution to proceed with the project?

p.  Will Glen Eira Council commit to publishing all feasibility studies, business plans, etc. prior to its formal decision making on all projects exceeding $2M and invite community feedback on these documents?

Council uses a thorough engagement process with the community prior to commencing any large capital projects. A recent example of this was the consultation on the Carnegie Swim Centre.  From 17 October 2019 to the end of January 2020, Council undertook consultation on the redevelopment options for the Carnegie Swim Centre, which included the costs, concept designs, concept images and scope of the project.  Council had Facebook posts, flyers, digital screens, FAQ’s, pull up banners, and directed the community to “Have Your Say” on Council’s website.

Glen Eira does not allow the publishing of fulsome, and meaningful minutes of all Community Reference Group meetings. Resident participants have been clearly told, inside these meetings, not to discuss the content of the meeting or opinions outside the meetings – and have been advised not to seek outside community opinion on the meeting subject matter.

There is no transparency whatsoever.

There is no meaningful objective dialogue and no commitment from council or council officers to alter the offered and presented trajectory of the subject matter. As noted earlier, the trajectory of these meetings is preordained. This is evidenced by the drop off in resident member attendance over the course of the Community Reference Group meetings.

 Residents have reported that they feel inconsequential in the Community Reference Groups.

Further evidence of resident dissatisfaction is the large number of resident groups that have formed to tackle the matters of Council which are of deep concern to residents.

We request further information and explanation in the answers to our questions, so that we can be aware of what is happening, and the reasons for Council’s decisions.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Bernadette Pierce

President, Save Glen Eira

          Save Glen Eira Inc. A0107697H                                  Website: savegleneira.com.au                                           Email: info@savegleneira.com.au.

As mentioned above, submissions regarding the 2020-21 Budget and Strategic Resource Plan need to be presented to Council on Friday 5 June 2020

 

Please feel free to include comments from the above open letter when lodging a submission to Council.

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Council elections will be held in October, 2020.

Glen Eira needs Councillors who hold transparency and accountability as part of their responsibility to residents. Councillors who are prepared to openly question and challenge the Administration and its officers and ensure that residents’ views are factored into Council’s decisions.   (Under the Local Government Act Councillors are responsible for setting the “rules” and monitoring the compliance of all Council officers with those “rules”).

 If you are considering standing, please feel free to contact us to further discuss any of the above issues or any area of special interest to you.