Mildura Rural City Council (MRCC) held a special meeting on Monday night this week to adopt the proposed Budget for the new financial year 2021-2022.

The $145 million plus Budget was passed eight votes to one. The lone, dissenting councillor was Glenn Milne.

The passing of the budget followed a 28-day public consultation period during which submissions from the community were invited.

Councillor Milne’s reason for not voting in the affirmative was because he is opposed to the 1.5 per cent increase in rates to be levied on ratepayers.

“I refuse to support any further rate rises,” Cr Milne told the ‘Weekly. “It’s time the State Government stepped up and fixed the rate inequity across the State.”

Mayor Jason Modica said that Council was also acutely aware of keeping to a minimum, the imposing of more financial pressures onto ratepayers.

“This is why we have not sought an increase over the Victorian Government’s Fair Go Rate Cap of 1.5 per cent,” he said.

“Our Budget is one of our organisation’s most important documents in detailing how we will fund and resource the delivery of more than 100 essential services, facilities and infrastructure to residents throughout our region.”

“It will also support the broader aims of our new four-year Council Plan, which is currently being developed as part of Imagine 2040, our community’s vision for the coming two decades.”

Councillor Modica said that it is estimated that Council has provided in the vicinity of $5 million in direct and indirect financial support to the community during COVID-19.

“Whether this was through rate relief, waiving of various fees and charges, provision of grants, assistance with food parcels, increased cleaning of community facilities such as toilets and playgrounds, and adaption of services to online or to meet government requirements,” he said.

“Despite these financial pressures, we’ve made it a priority to ensure there is no reduction in the number of valuable services our community receives, which is reflected in a healthy focus on service delivery during 2021-22 including: $7.87 million for youth, children and family services, $5.66 million for aged and disability support services, $3.55 million for customer services, $3.36 million for community safety, health and well-being.”

Councillor Modica added that the development of this year’s $145.6 million Budget has come at a challenging time as our region looks to recover from not only the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also drought in the Millewa.

“We certainly recognise that many residents, businesses, community and sporting groups have suffered financially as a result of the pandemic and its restrictions along with the drought, and Council has not been immune to these impacts,” he said.

“The combination of reduced income and delivering millions of dollars in COVID-19 support to our community and maintaining road access and clearing sand drifts over the past year, means we’re expecting a $1.01 million operating deficit in the 2021-22 Budget.”

In the 2020-2021 Budget, Council allocated $1.5 million towards COVID-19 relief and recovery for those experiencing hardship, or to support economic and social recovery outcomes.

Approaching the end of the 2020-2021 financial year approximately $533,000 remained unallocated. Rather than returning the funds to general revenue at the Ordinary Meeting of Council on May 26, Council resolved the following items be approved at Monday’s special meeting.

The implementation of the ‘Baby Makes 3 Program’ at an estimated cost of $75,000, the CBD Plan Activation $150,000, Tourism and Directional Signage Strategy $130,000, Mildura Arts Centre Online Programs $30,00, Riverfront Place Making $22,000, COVID Funding for Red Cliffs Centenary $10,000 and COVID Response and Rebuild $120,000. All these programs were adopted.

Councillor Milne also asked the meeting what the total cost of the Mildura South Regional Sporting Precinct was going to be and what was allocated in the new budget for the operation of the facility.

Councillor Milne then raised some questions in regard to the $12.80 million on roads projects, asking why the cost of the individual projects aren’t itemised.

“The document would have a lot more relevance to the community and they could actually understand how much is being spent on each project,” Cr Milne said.

MRCC general manager Corporate Chris Parham said that it was presented that way in part because of the nature of the document and these are the estimates that have been allocated for those projects.

“Some projects when they go out to the tender process the prices may come in slightly higher or slightly lower,” he said.

“And so it is really at an executive summary level just trying to provide a general overview as opposed to going into the project detail.”

Councillor Milne then asked how much money in total is going to be spent in this budget on the Mildura South Sporting Precinct.

“How much is in the budget for administration, operations, depreciation, as well as what the predicted income is and what was spent on the Mildura South this and last financial year,” he said.

General manager Community, Martin Hawson, replied to Cr Milne’s question.

“While I can give a summary of what Councillor Milne is asking – it is quite detailed,” he said.

“I would therefore suggest a follow up memo to Councillors summarising this information.
“With regard to Stage One, the budget is $34.2 million and there are a number of items that Cr Milne has eluded to.
“Item one is Stage One of the works which take up the majority – item two is the bio-retention basin – item three is the boundary intersection works – these items are subject to Council’s confidential report – and these are the main items for Stage One.
“For Stage Two there is $10 million in the budget and there are a number of other items, including land purchase and acquisition, which are also subject to a confidential report.
“The total funding for the project is $38.1 million and the operating budget administration, operations and maintenance of the site is just on $1 million.”
Mr Hawson said that the income is projected to be $374,655, with depreciation being estimated at $550,000, subject to the building being complete and factored across all asset bases.
“The amount spent in this financial year was $9.9 million including road works and drainage. The total amount expended on the project is currently $23.3 million.”