By TONY FOSTER
ON February 11, with Deputy Mayor Barbara Curran and general manager Ron Sanderson, I will represent Brighton Council at a meeting of Councils with the Treasurer and Minister for Local Government Peter Gutwein to discuss local government reform in this State.
While we are advised that the Minister “does not have a fixed agenda”, we do know that the Government is under pressure from big business and large property owners who want to force Council amalgamations in the hope that it will bring rate savings for them.
While experience elsewhere in Australia shows that amalgamations actually lead to rate increases for most ratepayers, local government should always be looking at ways in which it can reduce costs and still serve the community more efficiently. We are doing that in Brighton particularly through sharing and selling services to other Councils and, as you can read in this issue of Brighton Community News, this initiative is about to take a major step forward through the formation of a joint venture with other like-minded Tasmanian Councils.
The Tasmanian Local Government Common Services Model will place our provision of services to other Councils and any services we may purchase from another Council on a formal business basis.
It will ensure that we can continue to provide all the services our community requires, and at the most efficient cost. As a leader in providing shared services, Brighton will be at the forefront in providing services through the joint venture. This will earn us valuable income that Brighton can put towards holding down rates and improving services for ratepayers and the community.
By sharing services, Councils, particularly those that are small and perhaps under-resourced, have the ability to provide a high level of professional services to their ratepayers at an affordable cost. Councils that are unable to attract professional staff or hire suitable employees on a full-time or permanent basis have the opportunity to limit their exposure to financial risk while delivering a high level of service to the community.
It is worth noting that in the past financial year, some 4500 hours of common services were provided and exchanged between the Councils joining in the our joint venture. This resulted in cost savings of approximately $660,000 for those Councils. With the formalisation of the Common Services Model and the commitment of Councils to the Joint Venture, an increase in amount of common services hours is expected, along with significant additional savings. It is projected that 6000 hours of common services hours could be completed this calendar year, leading to increased savings in the order of $800,000 – $880,000.
In my view, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Future savings will amount to millions of dollars and this is good news for the Councils and good news for ratepayers.
In his letter to Mayors of November 26 advising of the February 11 meeting, Minister Gutwein wrote that any local government reform must:
- Be in the interest of ratepayers.
- Improve the level of services for the communities.
- Preserve and maintain local representation.
- Ensure that the financial status of the entities is strengthened.
By any fair and reasonable measure, the Tasmanian Common Services Model Joint Venture is the least costly, most flexible and best-placed option to meet all of these requirements.