Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

A plan for Mitchell Shire Council's financial future

A group made up of councillors and concerned residents present a roadmap of their own.

CHALPAT SONTI April 16, 2014 3:12am

Working out what services are essential and which are simply ‘‘nice to have’’, a return to cash surpluses and thinking about the community’s ability to absorb big rate increases — those are some of the talking points from a group formed to provide advice on Mitchell Shire Council’s finances.

The Financial Sustainability Reference Group includes shire residents Stu Locke, Ian Rohde, Kathryn Harris, Jack Reilly, Rob Eldridge, Dan O’Dwyer and Paul Fleming.

They joined mayor Rodney Parker, deputy mayor Rhonda Sanderson and councillor Ross Lee.

Its purpose was to identify and recommend principles and strategies that the council should consider when preparing the Budget and reviewing the Strategic Resource Plan, especially in relation to long-term financial planning principles, rating principles and the application of differential rating, borrowing policy and performance indicators set by the Victorian Auditor General.

It came up with 10 themes and some strategies. These included:

Long term financial plan — The Strategic Resource Plan should be reviewed annually and a 10-year financial plan developed.

A financial analysis should be done of the costs and income associated with further residential expansion, particularly in the south of the shire.

Advocacy — Maximise grants thereby reducing burden on ratepayers by pursuing these opportunities and continuing advocacy to Victorian and Federal Government for funding for key infrastructure projects.

The council should ‘‘resist the cost-shifting’’ by those levels of government.

Borrowings — Supported for assets that provide broad community benefit and where the asset’s life is greater than one generation.

Identify appropriate projects through developing a 10-year capital works plan, understanding community needs might drive the level of indebtedness ‘‘above medium risk audit indicators for a period’’.

Ensure there is a level of borrowing capacity maintained to ‘‘take advantage of unscheduled opportunities’’ and see if the council can get access to better interest rates through the Victorian Government.

Underlying surpluses — The aim should be to achieve these annually, within the next five to six years. In the meantime the need to do this should be balanced with the community’s ability to absorb significant rate increases. Surplus cash can be reinvested into capital works.

Asset management — Continue to update asset management plans, develop a 10-year capital works program, allocate priority funding based on assessments of assets’ condition, look at developing an asset rationalisation and retirement strategy and develop a land-buying plan to meet future strategic needs especially in the south of the shire.

Service delivery — Provide best value for money delivery of services within available financial resources.

Review service provision, assess future resource requirements including the ‘‘true’’ cost of maintenance and likely revenue-generating activities.

Use ‘‘conservative’’ growth estimates. Work out what is essential and what is discretionary with ‘‘discussions around nice to have services versus essential services’’.

Efficiency — Use value-for-money principles in setting priorities and spending money. Look at ways to reduce cost-to-revenue ratio and the effectiveness of the existing corporate structure and delivery of services to achieve increased productivity and streamlining of services.

Economic development — The highest priority is to attract businesses to the shire to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Obtain ‘‘competent personnel’’ to promote ‘‘serious employment opportunity’’ and re-establish the Economic Development Advisory Committee.

Municipality planning — Review long-term needs of residential, industrial, commercial and recreational space as well as planning controls. The council should understand its long-term vision and be actively putting in place measures now to ensure land can be used to meet future needs.

Transparency and communication — ‘‘The council should be more open and transparent when communicating with the community, this includes both with the good news stories but also when the news isn’t good.’’

Use simple language, clear messages and appropriate mediums for communication.

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