Inquiry must find balance for councils amid cost shifting

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Councils work tirelessly to balance costs and service provision for their communities, with a far lower tax take than other levels of government. That’s why the MAV is pleased to see – and participate in – the State Upper House inquiry into Local Government Finances.

The inquiry will be the first substantive inquiry into costs and services across the sector since the ill-fated 2018 rating inquiry, which was shelved by the then LG Minister Shaun Leane without delivering a single piece of substantive reform for the sector.

At the centre of the inquiry is how well councils are delivering on the broad and extensive range of services they provide to communities each and every day. This includes infrastructure like roads, footpaths and drainage, through to human services like early years and aged care.

It will also examine councils capacity to undertake statutory obligations, be they planning, environmental health, domestic animal management, school crossing supervision and strategic planning within the confines of prescribed fees and workplace challenges.

MAV will be highlighting to the inquiry examples like the maternal and child health program. It is supposed to be a 50/50 cost shared program, but councils are making up for a cost increase of more than a third, because the State Government has not changed its funding levels since 2016.

MAV President David Clark is encouraging all councils to provide submissions to the inquiry and encourage their communities to highlight the importance of critical services councils provide.

“The MAV will be actively participating in the inquiry and we will support councils to do the same,”

“While it is important to identify gaps in funding for council services and programs, more important is what local communities have been deprived of due to the resource constraints imposed on councils in the current environment,” Cr Clark explained.

While the MAV acknowledges a complete removal of the rate cap is unlikely, we want this inquiry to do important work in creating mechanisms where costs of the growing number of obligations the State Government legislates for councils to implement are recognised and properly resourced.

“The inquiry also has capacity to examine further cost recovery opportunities, as well as the role specific council revenues can play in providing services within individual councils,”

“To be effective, this inquiry must examine rating as the primary revenue source of the sector  and how State and Federal funding is providing resources to Councils who are constrained in terms of rating base and population.