Why I believe in Local Government.

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Deputy Mayor Serge Thomann

Local government often seems to be the target of negative publicity, so knowing how much our community values Council services, I thought you would appreciate a different perspective.

Tom Elliott, of 3AW, made a good point when he said recently: “Because so much media attention is focused on Federal and State political matters, not enough people know what is occurring at the municipal level.”

I strongly encourage our community to visit our website or attend Council meetings. Almost everything our Council decides is done in public, so residents can see these decisions first-hand.

In the City of Port Phillip, in 2014-15, only 3 out of 170 reports were confidential. This is 2%, compared to 28% in Melbourne. We are the best councils in Victoria on this topic which makes me very proud. Our code of conduct is strict and we are scrutinised for everything we do and every penny we spend. Any journalist can ask a question and they will get a straight answer. Complete transparency.

Local government is so much more than the traditional triple Rs – Rates, Roads and Rubbish. It is government at a local and community level. People can call me any time of the day – or at night. My mobile number is published on the Council website for all to have.

Let’s talk about the first “R”, Rates. The Victorian Government made an election promise to cap Council rates to CPI. It will be 2.5 per cent for the next financial year.

Council’s costs go up more than the general inflation rate due to the nature of what we provide and its cost structure.

Councils are always asked to do more, and in Port Phillip we have a community with high expectations. Having travelled to other municipalities, I know we have a beautiful and liveable environment. Bu it’s important to note that while the average rate increase for the municipality will be 2.5 per cent, individual ratepayers’ rates may go up by less or more than this amount as all properties are revaluated – this happens every two years.

I believe that a Council has to be extremely prudent in its spending. We have been hit with numerous costs that were paid by the State or the Federal Governments in the past. Example of cost shifting are funding for home and community care, meals on wheels, school crossing supervisors, State Emergency Services, childcare and the fire services levy. Federally, we lost funding for programs at the Skinners and St Kilda adventure playgrounds – both of which provide valuable support for disadvantaged young people.

Now for Roads and Rubbish … We take pride in keeping our City clean and have 143 km of footpaths which are renewed on a priority basis. On top of this we have parks and gardens, including two beautifully maintained heritage gardens that make us proud.

Council also provides more than 120 diverse services … childcare and aged care, libraries, planning, events and economic development are just a few examples. We also try to shape the future and influence outcomes in places like Fishermans Bend and the St Kilda Triangle.

Some criticise councils for advocating on issues not directly in their jurisdiction. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with Councillors publicly supporting some issues that the community feels strongly about, such as marriage equality.

Our Council sets a good example when it comes to important practices such as sustainability, energy saving, water collection and solar panels. And I value the small contribution we can make to encouraging a more peaceful, open, tolerant and accepting environment for all to enjoy.

I am also proud of our – and my personal support for many cultural offerings and events available in our City. St Kilda, for example, has always been a creative hub and has a great number of theatres (Palais, Alex, Memo, Theatre Works, RedStitch, The National, just to name a few.)

I’d like to conclude by saying Councillors can be blamed for things beyond their control – including developments that are refused by us but later approved by VCAT.

We are easy targets but we take on this role to make a difference for our community and for our City to be a better place to live.

As you can see, I strongly believe in the value of local government and I hope this month’s column has given you an insight into the challenges and successes being experienced by the City of Port Phillip.

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