Submission re Shire Budget 2008/09
Posted on 11 April 2008 by e-news
Submission to Mount Alexander Shire Council re The Budget For 2008/09
Prepared by Tony Smark for the Mount Alexander Sustainability Group Inc., P.O. Box 1043, Castlemaine, 3450. Phone 5470 6798
On behalf of MASG, thank you for the opportunity of presenting to Council. To be able to talk to Council prior to the Budget being drafted is a great innovation.
I’m Tony Smark and I’ve been a committee member of MASG since its inception. My wife and I have lived in the Shire for thirteen years.
I’ve had over twenty years’ experience as an officer at a senior level in Local Government in Victoria and the Northern Territory. I’ve been a Finance Manager, a Town Clerk, a Shire Secretary and a Chief Executive Officer. I even had a short stint as Shire Secretary in part of this shire, the old Shire of Maldon. I’ve also worked as a consultant to Local Government in most States. Until recently my wife and I owned and edited The Australian Local Government Job Directory and, a few years ago, operated Logo, a Local Government staff placement service.
In preparing this submission I’ve examined the Council’s 2007/08 Budget and its twenty year financial plan. I’ve also read Trevor Budge & Associates’ report on the Shire meeting its commitment to reduce the Shire’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2010. And I’ve had brief discussions with Council officers, Sandra Wilson and Nick Haslinghouse on aspects of the Budget and Council’s policies generally.
I’ve personally drawn up fifteen Council budgets and sat through lengthy meetings with Councillors as they’ve determined priorities and reluctantly set rates at increased levels. I’ve been there and I know what you as Councillors have to go through and how challenging the process can be. There’s usually not a lot of fat left after allocating resources to what are considered essential services. This is particularly the case in a rural Shire with so many unmade roads.
Acknowledgment Of Council’s Work
In my research and discussions with Council staff, I was pleased and surprised to discover that the Council is doing more for the environment than I thought. Council is to be congratulated on what it has done to date, things such as:
• the innovative use of biofuels for Council’s plant fleet and, I’m told, a small reduction in the quantity of fuel used by Council,
• the increasing money allocations to cycling/walking tracks and footpaths,
• the recently acquired bicycle fleet,
• the work of staff member, John Anthony,
• the allocation of money in the current budget for a bike path study,
• the establishment of the Energy/Water Saving Reserve Fund,
• Council’s membership and active participation in the Central Victorian Greenhouse Gas Alliance, and
• its participation in the important CSIRO project.
I’m aware that the Council has ongoing staff resourcing issues but, at the same time, I think the effort needs to be made to get this good news about Council’s environmental activities out there into the community.
“Sustainability – the ability to sustain something over time”
My goal on behalf of MASG is simply to encourage the Council to allocate a sizeable sum in its coming Budget, sufficient to make real progress towards meeting its commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions in the Shire by 30% in just two years time.
I’ve looked at what has been done so far and my best guess is that Council at the corporate level, despite the good things it is doing, has failed to make much if any impact on its 30% reduction target. Of course the Council’s target also applies to the Mount Alexander Shire generally and, in this area, I think it is fair to say that Council has done very little.
Since the Council set its greenhouse gas emissions target in November 2006, the planet’s situation has worsened and the need for urgent and substantial action has intensified. It’s all over the papers, on the television and in all the media on a daily basis. You’ve all read it, you’ve seen it and your Council’s adopted policy shows you understand how serious and critical the situation is. Just in case you’ve missed the latest science, I’ll now hand out a brief summary of a much larger document entitled Climate Code Red which sets out the case for a sustainability emergency.
What’s required now is some innovative decision making and some urgent and substantial actions backed up by appropriate resources. It will not be good enough if, when 2010 comes along and it is coming quickly, you have only achieved a 2 or 3% corporate reduction and have done nothing for the overall Shire target reduction. That would be a failure of major proportions and a betrayal of our community and the planet. More importantly, a betrayal of our children and grandchildren. “Business as usual” is not an option.
What Is Required?
As the leaders of the Mount Alexander community, the Council has an obligation and the stated commitment to take an active leadership role and act now. There are many things the Council can do. Some are either cost-neutral or not overly expensive. Others are more expensive but need to be done nevertheless.
With 2010 fast approaching, Council needs to look at where it can make real and rapid progress towards meeting its corporate commitment and, at the same time, get the best return for its money. The two main areas where this can be most readily achieved are electricity and fuel usage. And we have two other suggestions as well.
MASG proposes that Council signs on in 2008/09 for 100% Greenpower for all of its operations including street lighting.
This action would have the largest and swiftest impact on reducing the Council’s corporate greenhouse gas emissions. And it will not cost the Earth. Many other Councils across Australia have already made the move to 100% Greenpower. With cost savings through energy audits and behavioural changes, some of these Councils have achieved better than cost-neutral results. They’ve actually saved money. Perhaps the MAV with its bargaining power could negotiate a Greenpower deal with one or more electricity retailers on behalf of its member Councils so that the initial extra cost is either minimal or perhaps even zero. We believe they did something similar with telephone services recently and saved many Councils large sums of money.
2. Fuel Usage/Voluntary MASG Carbon Levy
We propose that the Council offsets its greenhouse gas emissions from its fuel usage by paying a voluntary carbon levy to MASG to assist the Group in continuing and expanding its Shire-wide carbon reducing operations.
The funds to cover this expense could come from just several percentage points of the Council’s Environment and Infrastructure budget. Historically, due to a number of factors, a sizeable proportion of the budget allocation for this sector remains unspent each year. Thus the carbon levy could be undertaken without any real impact on Council’s works and services.
The benefits to the Shire would be enormous:
• Council would make rapid progress towards achieving its corporate greenhouse gas emissions reduction target,
• the funds passed over to MASG would stay in the community, unlike most other offset schemes,
• MASG would be given greater and much needed financial capacity to continue and expand its valuable work towards meeting its (and the Council’s) greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets throughout the Shire, and
• the whole Mount Alexander community would be contributing to and accepting responsibility for the issue, which is as it should be.
Obviously to make such a commitment to MASG would require certain checks and balances to be undertaken by Council. What’s needed is for Council and MASG to come together and forge an ongoing and close partnership towards reaching our common goal. This would take more time than we have available tonight.
In just two years MASG has achieved some outstanding results. Already we have more than 650 members and the membership continues to grow quickly. No other group in the Shire has attracted this level of interest and support. In the current financial year we have an expenditure budget of $366,700, the majority of which is funded privately by a small group of local people who are committed to sustainability. Currently we employ six people, which is unique for a sustainability group in a small Shire. We have “runs on the board” in many areas of sustainability and many more projects either being rolled out now or in the pipeline. The high national and international profile Mount Alexander Shire has as an exemplary sustainable community is due in large part to the successful work of MASG. We are growing rapidly and need to be properly resourced to continue and to manage that growth.
In reality MASG is already acting on behalf of the Council in working effectively towards reducing the Shire’s greenhouse gas emissions, work that the Council is committed to do but does not have the staffing or resourcing capacity to do on its own.
3. School Of Mines/Environmental Retrofit
We understand that it is likely that the Council will proceed with the purchase of the School of Mines building for additional office space.
MASG proposes that in developing the building the Council takes into account its greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitment and environmentally retrofits the property to “8 Star” standard and make it a showpiece for the municipality and the region.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Council to achieve excellence in a sustainability project and to show leadership in the community. The additional expense could be funded by loan or, again, from unexpended allocations in the Environment and Infrastructure budget.
4. HACC Program/Environmental Home Maintenance
MASG proposes that Council employ an additional up to full-time home handyman trained in environmental auditing to assist the elderly and disabled in the community in carrying out environmental upgrades on their homes.
For little material cost, these people’s homes could be enhanced with energy saving fluoro globes, water saving shower heads, draught-busting devices, etc. Most of the materials could probably be sourced free of charge from groups like Origin Energy and Coliban Water. The worker’s wages would be heavily subsidised by the HACC program. The elderly and disabled would benefit from warmer homes and cheaper utility costs and Council would make a valuable contribution towards reducing the Shire’s greenhouse gas emissions.
MASG acknowledges that we are asking a lot of Council. Unfortunately we can do no less. For Council to meets its commitment and in so doing accept responsibility for our small part of the planet, urgent, substantial and sustained action is required now and in the future.
We ask that you fully consider our proposals and their implications and that you accept and implement them.
Thank you once again for your time and attention.
9th April 2008