By JOHN DOOLEY

MILDURA Rural City Council (MRCC) ratepayers are set to  pay more if the City’s latest draft budget is adopted without change.

At a special meeting on Wednesday night, MRCC handed down its draft budget for the 2020-2021 financial year. A budget that was subsequently adopted by a majority of Councillors.

The proposed Budget will now go out for public consultation.

The 2020-2021 Budget was predicated on a base average rates rise of two percent and an increase that is in line with the ‘Fair Go Rates System’ rates cap set by the Minister for Local Government in 2019. In fact, all of Victoria’s 79 municipal councils have been operating under rates caps since July 2016. 

The Budget draft document noted that as a result of ongoing savings, rate increases have fallen from a high of six percent in 2012-13, and that future rate increases are based on the Victorian Government Budget Consumer Price Index (CPI) predictions of two percent. 

Another motion which was voted on at Wednesday night’s meeting was to allow for a $1million contribution to the Mildura Airport Corporation for the installation of an Instrument Landing System (ILS), which will cost $4million dollars and is being additionally funded by the contributions from the Airport Corporation and the Federal Government.

Councillor Jason Modica spoke against the motion stating that the proposal had “only recently come out of confidential and put community members at a disadvantage”, because residents hadn’t had time for sufficient scrutiny of the ILS project, and there had been no public consultation. 

Cr Modica also cited the unknown social and environmental effects of the ILS installation which he believed would lead to more aircraft movement in the area. 

Councillor Mark Eckel, who spoke for the motion, highlighted the fact that Mildura had played host to a serious near miss in June 2013, when two commercial airliners − a Qantas and Virgin flight − were diverted to Mildura Airport due to fog closing their destination airports. Both aircraft managed to land safely, but only after having made several failed attempts to land due to Mildura airport also becoming fog bound, with one of the aircraft becoming dangerously low on fuel. 

The presence of an ILS on that occasion would have made the situation a lot safer, Cr Eckel contended.

The ILS funding motion was then adopted with the support of a majority of Councillors. 

The MRCC’s Budget for 2020-2021 reflects a surplus of $7.30million, which includes capital funding of $7.32million. The operating result is a deficit $0.02million. 

The Budget further reports that cash and cash equivalents remain strong with a projected year-end balance of $70.23million and that Council’s equity increases to $971.32million in 2020-2021. 

The Capital Budget for 2020-2021 is $50.74million. 

Major initiatives in this year’s Budget include an increased emphasis on building and roads projects, including the Mildura Future Ready suite of projects. 

Council has a borrowings forecast in the 2020-2021 financial year of $8million, with total borrowings as of June 30, 2021, forecast to be $25.27million. 

COVID-19 relief: Council reports that the development of the Draft Annual Budget 2020-2021 and Fees and Charges Schedule 2020-2021 has coincided with the unprecedented impacts of COVID-19 and the Millewa drought and sand drifts. 

This has had a significant impact on many individuals, businesses and community groups in our region and saw Council formally consider a petition at its May 2020 Ordinary Council Meeting seeking rate waivers for affected businesses. 

As a result of this community impact, Council has allocated $1.5million to an economic recovery package to support its community. 

Council has already instigated a number of measures with waivers, deferrals and payment plans to assist those who need it. 

It’s also Council’s intention to consider the concerns of the May petitioners through the implementation of the economic recovery package. 

Further injection of funds for Mildura Airport ILS and Sporting Precinct: Council will make a $1million contribution to the installation of an Instrument Landing System (ILS) at Mildura Airport. 

Council has proposed borrowings of $8million to help with the construction of the Mildura South Regional Sporting Precinct. 

Summary of 2020 – 2021 key expenditure: MRCC’s budget for 2020-2021 is $71.15million with $50.74million to be spent on capital works projects.

$13.2million will be invested into road projects, $1.16million into parks open space and streetscapes.

$24.32million will be spent on building and building improvement projects including the Mildura South Regional Sporting Precinct, the Old Powerhouse Theatre upgrade and the Old Aerodrome sporting complex projects.

A further $0.65million will be invested in waste management and $5.98million will be used to complete drainage works. $1.35million will go toward expenditure for recreational, leisure and community facilities.