One way or another, funding must be found

One need not look far in Bendigo to find ratepayers who believe they’re not getting value for money.

But while efficiency can always be improved in any organisation, the fact is our rates pay for essential services we all take for granted.

Local State Emergency Services, libraries and school crossing supervisors are just a few examples of services many of those who complain about rate rises would miss if they were suddenly no longer there.

Revelations that the City of Greater Bendigo’s contribution to the Bendigo Library has slowly crept up towards 80 per cent during recent years demonstrates how important rates are in funding highly valued assets.

But perhaps more concerning are comments from SES spokeswoman Natalie Stanway, revealing the entire contribution from state and local governments is inadequate to meet the organisation’s needs in terms of fuel and vehicle maintenance costs.

This leaves them reliant on the generosity of the communities they serve.

The upshot is that a key facet of our emergency services apparatus, which we all rely on in times of crisis, could not function without this generosity – abundant in Bendigo though it surely is.

It was Municipal Association of Victoria president Bill McArthur who perhaps best summed up this less than ideal situation.

“As a key Victorian emergency services agency, our SES deserves to be adequately funded in the same way the state funds other emergency services,” he said.

“SES units should not be relying on councils, fundraisers and community goodwill to do such important work protecting our communities.”

Meanwhile the council’s chief executive, Craig Niemann, has said he favours readjusting the funding balance so the state government contributes its fair share, rather than increasing rates.

But what is clear is the Victorian government can’t have it both ways.

If Premier Daniel Andrews and Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins insist rate caps are necessary to give ratepayers a “fair go”, they must be prepared to come to the table when it comes to contributing to services like the library.

Without adequate funding, services that keep us safe, like the SES, or improve our quality of life, like the library, cannot function effectively.

- Jason Walls, journalist

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