Editorial: Council must keep cost of living in check

THE City of Greater Bendigo is set to become a more expensive place to live over the next financial year as the council increases rates and a raft of fees and charges.

The question many residents will face is how to accommodate these extra costs in household budgets already stretched through rising cost of living pressures.

According to the draft 2017-18 budget, which will now be subject to a month-long public consultation period, rates will rise by the state government-mandated amount of 2 per cent. The council notes that it has resisted the temptation to apply for a special rate variation to further increase its revenue base next financial year, which will be a relief to many ratepayers.

It does appear, however, to be only a matter of time before the council resolves to go cap-in-hand to the government – as some other councils have done – seeking a more substantial rise.

CEO Craig Niemann said as much in his budget statement, warning that “over time … the cap will place a strain on the city’s financial sustainability and may challenge the way (council) currently delivers services and infrastructure”.

In the absence of a special rate rise, as well as a significant decrease in state and federal grants, the council has chosen to hike up hundreds of fees, charges and fines to maintain existing service levels.

Parking – and especially parking fines – will rise. Childcare will be more expensive. Desexing your dog or cat will cost more. As will waste services and pretty much everything else you can think of.

Next year’s budget contains few big ticket infrastructure items. There is $9.2 million to maintain sealed roads, $3.2 million for unsealed roads, $3.3 million to renew drainage and $2 million for new, upgraded and extended footpaths. While unquestionably a significant amount of money, it represents a tiny fraction of what needs to be spent bringing this vital infrastructure up to standard. But, by and large, ratepayers’ money is being spread out on numerous smaller projects across the council area, including the often neglected towns and villages.

Mayor Margaret O’Rourke describes the draft 2017-18 budget as an important step in the council’s vision of “creating the world’s most liveable community”. The challenge for the council in fulfilling that vision is to ensure residents can actually afford to live here.

- Ross Tyson, deputy editor