Moonee Valley Council will vote on its budget for the next 12 months this coming Tuesday.
Budgets are a chance for councillors to shape the priorities of the work of council – whether it be bike paths, childcare, sports facilities, programs for artists and young people, or waste facilities.
So what’s in this year’s budget and what priorities does it reflect?
Action on climate change is not prioritised in this budget
I’m starting with climate change policy as this has been a key focus for the hardworking Moonee Valley Sustainability community forum, of which I’m a member (full disclosure!).
It’s also increasingly urgent – despairingly so – that we take action to avoid the planet warming by 1.5 or 2 degrees leading to catastrophic environmental impacts.
MVCC has been progressive in its willingness to embrace key emissions targets in line with State Government targets and the Paris Agreement.
However, funding hasn’t flowed in past years towards funding the achievement of MVCC’s target of net zero community emissions by 2040 – and the same can be said this year.
There’s only $65,000 in the budget specifically to address climate change – that’s 0.04% of the overall budget.
While there’s $764,000 allocated to ‘Environment’ services, this is under the ‘Beautiful’ work area and seems focused on the important work of maintaining green open spaces and delivering community education programs.
Moonee Valley Sustainability presented at the hearing of submissions to the budget last week and suggested funding of $3 million for actions in Council’s Green Action Plan to start the necessary downward trajectory of community emissions to hit ‘0’ in 2040.
Here are some of the actions suggested:
Further items were suggested for a total of $3 million with an additional $3 million spend suggested on sustainable transport.
These actions are considered necessary by MVS to start pushing community emissions down:
However, the Council officers have not recommended that councillors adopt any of these spending measures. This appears to be based on the view that there are limitations to Council’s control and influence over community emissions. We’ve learnt MVCC sees its community emissions target as a “driver for advocacy”, rather than a prompt for funding and action from council.
“Having a community target for emissions reduction is important as it is a way to demonstrate a commitment to do whatever is in our capacity and act as a driver for action and advocacy in the community. It provides a vision – to know what we are working towards and acknowledges that leadership is needed to enable steep cuts to community emissions.”
To be a bit provocative, Council could have targets for all sorts of things if the targets are centrally about advocacy and leadership. There could be targets for zero unemployment in MV, zero homelessness, zero road accidents … you get the idea.
Council officers have recommended that these suggestions be referred to the Environment Portfolio Advisory Committee (EPAC), a committee of residents with interest and expertise in the environment, and then reconsidered at the January budget review.
Many members of the EPAC are MVS members, and have already spent two years advising MVCC on the Green Action Plan – the items MVS is now suggesting funding.
In October last year, MVCC unanimously supported a declaration that we are in a climate emergency. This year’s budget does not appear to reflect this commitment.
Council has included in the budget $5 million worth of support measures to address hardships resulting from COVID-19. These include recovery plans, as well as grants and fee relief.
As a result of COVID-19, no fees have been increased for the next 12 months, and some fees have been reduced. There are some new fees for activities arising from new facilities and programs.
The draft budget reduced the expenditure on library books for 20/21 in the expectation that libraries may remain closed for some time. Additional funding was included in future years.
However, with libraries reopening, and after a number of submissions on the issue, the officers are recommending $550,000 be added for the renewal of library books split across hard-copy and e-books.
The budget includes $29.2 million to progress the East Keilor leisure centre redevelopment, $2 million for construction works at Overland reserve multi-use pavilion, $1.3 million to upgrade sports field at Clifton park and $1.5 million for the detailed design of the proposed community hub in Flemington.
On Friday night, MVCC also submitted plans to the State Government for up to $10 million funding for the sports pavilion and sports fields at Debney’s Park. Community members have not yet seen these plans.
Where’s the money going?
- The governance budget is doubling from $600,000 to $1.3 million
- Special projects and capital works planning up $300,000
- Planning and design of infrastructure maintenance costs $5 million
- Waste management and street cleaning costs $14 million
- Open space management costs $8 million
- $2 million to be spent replacing council’s fleet
- $3.5 million replacing IT application platform
- $3.5 million on roads
- $1.5 million on cycling and walking infrastructure
- $2 million on sporting facilities
- $32,000 on public art.
Long term capital works plan (LTCWP)
This year’s budget doesn’t include a LTCWP that was a feature of the last two annual budgets. The LTCWP has aligned with MV2040 and sets out capital works spending forecasts for the next 20 years.
Alterations to last year’s LYCWP caused considerable community concern with respect to changes to the funding for the Flemington Hub projected for 2021/23.
It’s not clear why the LTCWP has not been included in this year’s budget, but it suggests some reconsideration of the way MVCC approaches its long term planning and budgeting for future projects, and the wisdom of a current council voting on items to be delivered in distant future annual budgets.
It raises questions about the status of the LTCWP if it was voted on last year, but not this year. And, this year, residents have no visibility into MVCC’s plans for future capital works.
Expenditure and surplus
The Budget includes operating expenditure of $165.5 million and capital expenditure of $63.6 million – very similar to last year’s figuresof $160.9 million and capital expenditure of $64.7 million.
Twelve months ago, last year’s surplus was forecast to be $7.3 million while this year’s 2020/21 budget anticipates a loss of $4.3 million – excluding capital capital grants and contributions.
- $6 million projected decrease in user fees for 2020/21
- $1.9 million increase in employee costs
- $5.1 million in materials and services primarily due to Council’s COVID-19 Moonee Valley Council Support Package
- $2.7 million projected increase in revenues from grants
- $3.05 million increase in rates & charges.
There are $10 million borrowings budgeted in 2020/21 financial year to fund the East Keilor Leisure Centre.
The budget will be voted on this coming Tuesday and reviewed in January 2021.