By TONY FOSTER
THE new year 2017 is now more than a month old and it promises to be an important 12 months for the Brighton municipality.
In this issue of Brighton Community News you will read about our progressing of the Brighton Streetscape Project with the Commonwealth funding confirmed and the Council’s preparation for the works to get underway. This will make an important contribution to the Brighton township following its bypassing by the Midland Highway and it will dramatically improve facilities for businesses, the community and people visiting Brighton.This is but one of many projects that will be undertaken by Council to improve our municipality over the coming 12 months.
Of course, not all the work of Council is visible like roadworks, improving footpaths, walking trails and recreation areas and opening up new sub-divisions. A lot of activity takes place behind the scenes as we strive to make our administration more efficient and better able to serve ratepayers and the community of Brighton.
This will be particularly relevant in the coming year and indeed for a number of years to come as Council grapples with the impact of the decision by TasWater to make significant cuts to the annual dividends paid to the owner councils including Brighton. In Brighton’s case, this amounts to a revenue loss of approximately $4.6 million over seven years from 2018, following on from an initial reduction in dividends over the current three-year period.
TasWater’s decision was particularly disappointing given that council ratepayers had paid for the infrastructure (the dams, reservoirs, pipelines, reticulation systems and sewerage works) handed over on the establishment of TasWater and as such, the ratepayers’ councils are entitled to a fair return on the value of these assets. However, as the State Government will not commit to assist in funding much-needed works to upgrade water and sewerage services, particularly in smaller municipalities (which are funded by State Governments elsewhere in Australia), TasWater is cutting dividend payments to councils to raise the necessary capital.
Brighton Council is working extremely hard to ensure that this major cut to our revenue can be managed without impacting significantly on services and ratepayers.
We are reviewing all areas of our operations and developing strategies to ensure that we are working as effectively and cost efficiently as possible.
Among the initiatives being worked on is the further encouragement of residential growth in the municipality. Brighton is a great place to live and bring up a family and we want to encourage housing development to attract more people to come and live here. Council is looking at how we manage rating on vacant land as a means of boosting home building. We want to continue the expansion of the Brighton Industrial Estate, with some good prospects already identified. Importantly, more businesses establishing here will create more jobs and also increase rate revenue.
Brighton is also looking at how we can generate additional efficiencies, savings and revenue through resource-sharing with other councils and working with our sub-region group of Brighton, Central Highlands, Derwent Valley and Southern Midlands. We are also developing strategies and marketing plans to increase sales of our unique local government software developed by Brighton Council’s information technology business, Microwise Australia.
We’ll be looking at a range of other areas, from our waste management to planning and indeed covering all the services and activities of Council. Brighton is already recognised as the most efficient council in Tasmania and we want to make sure we continue to spend ratepayers’ funds as wisely as possible.
While the severe impact on our revenue as a result of the TasWater dividend decision was unforeseen, your Council is working positively to manage the outcome. Ratepayers and the community can be assured that we are doing everything possible to avoid any impact on our services or on Brighton’s fair rating system.
We will be in a much better position to understand how we can best manage the situation over the coming months and as I wrote at the outset, 2017 will be an important year for Brighton as we seek to best position our Council administration and service provision to take us into the future.
Fortunately, due to prudent management in the past, our resource-sharing initiatives and the success of Microwise, Brighton’s financial position is strong. I will keep you informed as we develop our strategies to deal with the challenges facing us and the undoubted opportunities that will be identified or arise.