STATE OF THE WARDS: COUNCILLORS COUNT THE COST OF RETAINING THEIR SEATS

CrTimRodgers200

STATE OF THE WARDS: COUNCILLORS COUNT
THE COST OF RETAINING THEIR SEATS

A matter close to the hearts of councillors, especially in an election year, was vigorously debated at the 26 April council meeting – the hyper-sensitive issue of ward-by-ward income versus ward-by-ward expenditure.

The figures show that one ward in particular, Briars, has done remarkably well compared with its five fellows.

Or so it would seem, taking the figures at face value. Which would exclude many vital variables, such as property values (higher rate income) and major projects (higher shire spending).

What has all that money been spent on? A shire report to councillors sought by a Notice of Motion on the matter would have included such information – had the motion not been voted down.

Briars comprises Mt Eliza, Mornington and Mt Martha. The ward is, as Cr Tim Rodgers remarked, a trio of suburbs. Perhaps the shire should, he said cheekily, give it to Frankston. This provoked indignant consternation from the Briars councillors, Bev Colomb, Andrew “Billy” Dixon and Anne Shaw.

Briars has contributed 29% of the shire’s revenue averaged over the past four years and received 41.7% of shire capital spending in that time. More startling is the dollar figure of that spending – $8,095,622 since 2012-13.

Contrast this with Nepean ward (Rye, Blairgowrie, Sorrento and Portsea), which contributed 23% of shire revenue via rates from what some call its posh properties but got a mere 8.3% of shire capital spending. In cold hard cash, that comes to $1,526,500 – the lowest capital spend in any ward.

Naturally, Tim Rodgers is narked at this figure, as is his Nepean ward colleague, Cr Hugh Fraser, who tabled the Notice of Motion seeking the report from shire officers showing how capital works might be “aligned” with rates contributions from each ward.

This NOM was akin to tossing a match into a barrel of fireworks around which the Briars councillors were sitting, especially coming as it did immediately after a vituperative discussion on Cr Fraser’s NOM to spend the Wittingslow Carnivals licence money exclusively at the Rye foreshore and not spread it around the shire. (See separate story.)

Other factors surely must be considered in how and where shire funds are spent, including such things as the two wards’ relative land area: Briars is 9.3% of the shire, Nepean is 5.5%. Briars is the most populous ward, with 45,641 voters, some 15,213 per councillor. Nepean has 29,290 voters, or 14,645 each for Cr Fraser and Cr Rodgers.

Precisely aligning spending in each ward, while not impossible, may well not be practicable, sensible or fair. Red Hill ward (voters: 12,972) comprises 47% of the shire land area – it is mainly green wedge farmland – but contributed just 13% of shire revenue over the past four years and got only 6.4% ($2,064,975) of shire capital spending in that time.

Size may not be everything, but it matters in a sparsely populated rural area with many kilometres of unmade roads to be maintained, heightened bushfire risk and tourist attractions, as well as villages requiring waste collection and other services. What also matters is that intensive development cannot occur in the green wedge zone because of state law.

A ward that seems to have been short-changed is Seawinds, which stretches from Safety Beach through Dromana, McCrae, Rosebud and Rosebud West, soon possibly to be renamed Capel Sound.

With 7.4% of the shire land area and 38,404 electors (12,800 each for Antonella Celi, David Gibb and Graham Pittock), this closely settled and, in some areas, socially disadvantaged suburban area languished at only $2,193,629 of capital spending over the four years.

Rosebud has waited for years for its big infrastructure item, the Southern Peninsula Aquatic Centre – the glittering foreshore palace so ardently promoted for so long by Cr Gibb when he was sole councillor for the Rosebud area (then Rosebud ward).

His insistence on the foreshore site finally shattered his dream. Permission for the location was withdrawn as being contrary to state planning policy.

The SPA project slumbers but will come back to life (away from the beach) as a capital spend in the tens of millions – possibly in the looming 2017-20 local government term. That will undoubtedly boost the cash flow to Seawinds in a grand manner.

While this writer sees merit in the notion of aligning spending in wards to revenue from wards, perhaps a less technical and more “human” element needs to be added to the calculation – that is, the population of each ward.

Those who make their living practising dark mathematical skills inside the shire bunker could no doubt develop a more sophisticated formula to “align” capital spending that is more equitable to voters and their families across the shire.

The following table shows the result of calculating current spending per voter. While adding another facet to the current discussion, it is certainly not conclusive. But it highlights that Seawinds and Nepean (probably the poorest and wealthiest wards) run a miserable second last and last in capital spending:

Ward Population Spend ($) Per voter ($)
Briars 45,641 8,095,622 177.38
Cerberus 13,385 1,797,975 134.33
Nepean 29,290 1,526,500 52.12
Red Hill 12,972 2,064,975 159.19
Seawinds 38,484 2,193,629 57.00
Watson 13,560 1,907,225 140.65

 

This table leads to one very firm conclusion: that much work needs to be done on the numbers to create a useful report for councillors at some future date. This debate is not about to go away, one suspects.

– David Harrison