By TONY FOSTER
BRIGHTON Council is seeking feedback from our community on two important issues for the future – our Strategic Plan and our response to the Minister for Local Government’s push for councils to look at amalgamation and service-sharing arrangements.
Detailed information is provided in this issue of Brighton Community News and on the Council’s website – www.brighton.tas.gov.au and I urge everyone to familiarise themselves with this.Updating the Strategic Plan is a requirement under the Local Government Act and Councillors and our senior staff have already developed a draft outline. This is an important part of our blueprint for the future and the plan will be completed following input from the community.
Equally important is our consideration of and response to Minister Gutwein’s encouragement of councils to look at voluntary amalgamations and sharing of common services.
As many readers would be aware, vested interests and particularly groups representing big city property owners are pushing for council amalgamations as they see this as a means of reducing their rates at the expense of householders, particularly those in smaller, and more efficient councils.
Brighton Council is extremely proud of its reputation as Tasmania’s most efficient council, offering the lowest and fairest rates’ regime in the State. Our fair rating system has ensured that rates have not risen any higher than the annual Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the past 18 years. We are determined to continue this policy and deliver the best and most cost effective services for Brighton ratepayers and our community. By way of contrast, equalisation of rates of the southern metropolitan councils, would see Brighton’s household rates rise by up to 20 percent. Clearly, this is unacceptable.
We want to ensure that we are offering the full range of services and facilities and that we are doing at the lowest possible cost. That is why Brighton is a leader in sharing services with other like-minded councils and why Council is a founding partner in a common services joint venture that now comprises seven Tasmanian councils. This is not only reducing costs, but also earning valuable income for Brighton that is used to further boost services or expand facilities for our community.
The Minister has asked councils to respond to his call for the examination of voluntary amalgamations and service sharing. In forming our response, we want to confirm the views of the Brighton community. We last surveyed the community some years ago and the overwhelming position was that ratepayers were not in favour of amalgamation with another council and wanted to maintain their local representation.
At its meeting in April, Council agreed to conduct a residents’ survey on a range of merger options and other associated issues to assist its consideration of the State Government’s voluntary amalgamations program. We also agreed to undertake internal studies to compare Brighton Council with its expanding shared services to a stand-alone council with no shared services.
The outcome of the residents’ survey and our internal advice will help form our response to the Minister and assist in charting a course for Brighton moving into the future.
Pressure for council amalgamations is undoubtedly a challenging issue for local government. There are those who see it as a means of improving local services and even reducing rates. Like most things, the reality is vastly different and indeed, nowhere in Australia has council amalgamations resulted in lower council rates. In fact, with the resulting growth in bureaucracies, the reverse is more often the case.
I will be interested to learn of the views of our community and in considering these, I can assure you that Brighton Council will not take any action that disadvantages our ratepayers, adds to the rate burden and cost of living pressures, or is not in the best interests of the people of Brighton.