Moonee Valley councillors have expressed concern about cuts to library services in a budget constrained by COVID-19 and the rate capping imposed by the state government.
While last year’s four-year plan anticipated an expenditure of $666,000 on library books, this was reduced to $158,000 in the 2020/21 draft budget.
In unanimously passing the draft budget at a council meeting on Tuesday night, councillors supported an amendment to address the reduction in spending.
Cr Sharpe moved an amendment to “receive a report on how best to restore funding to libraries with the expectation of it being restored to $550,000”, subject to COVID-19 restrictions having been lifted to permit the opening of libraries.
Across the four-year forecast from 2021-24, the expenditure on library books totals $2.6 million – equivalent to the total from 2020-2023 in last year’s Strategic Resources Plan.
MVCC Chief Executive Officer, Bryan Lancaster said “Moonee Valley Libraries are currently operating at a reduced capacity due to the pandemic and funding has been reduced in line with residents not being able to physically access libraries.”
The severity of the cut to the 2020/21 budget, however, appears to anticipate library closures well into the next financial year.
Moonee Valley closed its libraries on 16 March 2020, ten days before Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, ordered public libraries to be closed across the nation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s not clear when libraries will reopen. However, Moonee Valley Council will review its budget in January 2021 in the expectation that many services will have resumed by this time.
In related news, while Moonee Valley libraries remain closed, casual staff may be impacted.
Casual council staff who lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic, and are not redeployed to other areas of council, are not supported by the federal government’s Jobkeeper program.
While the state government announced today support for public sector casual workers excluded from Jobkeeper, this support is not available to local government employees.
The Victorian branch of the ASU said “the Andrews Government has abandoned casual local government workers who are out of work due to the closure of facilities and the failure of councils to redeploy them.”
Moonee Valley Council, like most local governments, is under financial pressure due to COVID-19 and rate capping.
As well as cuts to library services, the draft budget forecasts a 10 per cent reduction in employees over the next four years. However, the reduction in staff numbers does not result in any reduction to expenditure on staff in the same period.
MVCC Chief Executive Officer, Bryan Lancaster said “the targets contained within the Strategic Resource Plan should not be seen as representing specific cuts to services or staff.”
“The targets represent an opportunity for Council to plan how it may operate differently in resourcing the delivery of services within the context of the current fiscal constraints. These targets will be reviewed each year as part of budget development and may be adjusted subject to Council’s financial position at the time.”
The Strategic Resources Plan does set out specific cuts to staff for all departments over the next four years.
The 2020/21 council budget forecasts a $15 million shortfall in revenue and a reduction to the expected surplus by $10 million, compared to last year’s forecasts.
At the council meeting, held online due to COVID-19 restrictions, Cr Gauci-Maurici said the “impact of suspending our services is significant” and that libraries “support the health and wellbeing of the community”.
Cr Marshall said she supported the draft budget “with reservations” and “absolutely wouldn’t be supporting this without the inclusion of the review of the budget for libraries”.
Cr Nation said it was important for Council to “differentiate between what Council wants and what it needs” and to prioritise community services even where that “comes at the cost of a shiny new pavilion”.