By TONY FOSTER
BRIGHTON Council’s budget for the new financial year highlights the efficiency of our administration and the ability of our staff to provide services for other councils, so earning valuable revenue that helps to fund services for ratepayers.
As we’ve already announced, Brighton’s rates this year will rise only by 1.3 percent, the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Hobart. It’s the 20th year in succession that we’ve been able to hold down rates to the equivalent of the increase in the CPI and it’s fair to say that Brighton is the only council in Tasmania, and possibly Australia, able to make such a claim.How are we able to do this when other councils are increasing rates by up to three or four times Brighton’s increase? And does the smaller increase mean we are providing a lower level of services than other comparable councils?
These are fair questions and I’m pleased to say that Brighton Council is able to answer them in a very positive way.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly is the fact that Brighton is fortunately to be served by an extremely capable management and employee team. As well, we have a very stable elected Council, with residents rewarding Councillors for their good work by returning the same group in the past three elections. We are all on the same page and given the turmoil in some other councils, this is extremely refreshing, as is the excellent relationship and trust between the elected officials and our staff.
Our overall approach to managing Council’s operations is built around three key factors:
- Holding down our own administration costs and working as smartly as we can.
- Selling our services and particularly our unique MicroWise computer software that is now used by local government throughout Tasmania, interstate and even overseas. and
- Sharing common services with other like-minded councils through structured joint venture or fee-for-service arrangements.
This approach has proven to be extremely successful and with the growth that Brighton has been able to achieve in residential and industrial development has enabled us to not only keep down annual rate rises, but also provide additional resources that we are able to plough into services and facilities for ratepayers and the community.
Just one example is the recent purchase by MicroWise of the Derwent Indoor Sports Centre building to house the Hobart Gymnastics Academy. The Academy was in danger of losing its home and Council was not in a position to purchase the building without it impacting on its budget. MicroWise stepped up to the plate, securing the building in what was a great investment in the Brighton community and also a solid investment for the company. It has negotiated a lease with the Academy that provides a sound commercial return and enables a valuable community organisation to not only survive, but also expand in the future.
It clearly demonstrates the value of the commercial arm of the Brighton Council being able to invest in our community, an ability that is not readily available to other councils.
Our joint services venture that sees Brighton providing service for other councils and earning valuable revenue, as well as saving money through buying other services from our council partners and more competitive costs, is already bearing fruit and will become increasingly important in the future.
It is a considerable disappointment that the State Government has not recognised the importance and value of councils sharing common services. Broadly, it involves councils sharing the cost of a particular service or employee, where one council alone could not justify the cost and would probably have to pay a higher cost to use external consultants or contractors.
Brighton and the other councils participating in the Tasmanian Common Services Joint Venture will save more than $1 million this financial year and this figure will grow exponentially in the coming years.
Instead of blindly pursuing an amalgamation agenda promoted by the vested interests of big city property owners who want to thrust the rate burden onto householders rather than pay their share, the State Government should encourage all councils to carefully examine shared service opportunities.
By doing so, all Tasmanian councils could achieve savings similar to Brighton’s and their ratepayers would benefit as has Brighton’s. We are proud that Brighton can boast the lowest residential rates in Tasmania, that we have maintained rate increases at or below CPI for 20 years, and that our Council is consistently placed among the most efficient in Tasmania in administration and service provision.