Residents across the Northern Grampians Shire are being urged to make the most of an opportunity to provide comment on council's draft budget.
Council adopted its draft budget for 2014-15 at a special meeting last Monday night, the key feature being a rate increase capped at five percent. The documents have now been placed on public exhibition, with comments being received to June 18.
The focus for council in its 2014-15 draft budget was on keeping the increase to five percent, to ensure the delivery of core services and targeted projects contained in the 2013-2017 Council Plan
Another key element of the budget is the allocation of $33 million for projects and services across the shire.
Councillors heaped praise on officers for their assistance in the preparation of what had been yet another challenging budget.
Cr Tony Driscoll said he felt it was important for council to maintain the balance between keeping rate increases to a minimum, while remaining in a position to maintain levels of service delivery across the shire.
"We have all worked very hard to prepare this budget and to keep the rate increase to a minimum," he said.
"That was our aim all along and we are happy to have been able to achieve that.
"With regard to the CPI (Consumer Price Index), the cost of living is a lot higher than people just quoting the 2.7% or thereabouts. It cuts a lot deeper.
"Last year, we made a commitment to try and keep the rate increase down to five percent. We did that and managed to do it again in this budget.
"We would love to be announcing a zero increase, but we all know that isn't possible, as we must also maintain a focus on delivering services to our ratepayers.
"I commend this draft budget, bearing in mind that all the other aspects of the budget remain the same, the pensioner rebate, farm rate differential and the cultural and recreational lands rebate.
"We have done our best to keep this budget as frugal as possible, while maintaining services to our ratepayers."
Cr Murray Emerson urged members of the public to take time to read through the budget documents and make any comments they deem necessary.
"The documents will all go for public viewing now," he said.
"If residents find something they are not happy about, we are open to consultation.
"This is the biggest challenge the council faces each year. The mine proposal is the biggest single challenge for us this year, but the budget comes up every year for council.
"We deal with it the best we can and make it as far as we can for our ratepayers."
Council will accept submissions on the draft budget up until June 18. The budget will then be formally adopted by council at a meeting on June 30.
As well as the five percent rate increase across the shire, other key elements of the draft budget include:
* New loan funds of $1 million are proposed to be borrowed during 2014/2015. Council will repay $346,000 in loans during the year so net
indebtedness will increase from $3,181,900 to $3,833,100 during the period.
* The annual service charges for kerbside garbage collection be set at $247. Additional kerbside garbage collection
services will cost $142. The annual service charges for kerbside recycling collection services be set at $142.00.
* There will be $9.7m allocated for capital works on parks, recreational areas, buildings and drainage works, along with $6.1m being spent on roads and bridges.
Other allocations include $4.6m for children's services, aged care, recreation, leisure services and libraries, $1.1m to attract and encourage new and existing businesses and tourism, $1.8m on waste management and environmental objectives and $1 million on streetscape improvements in Stawell, St Arnaud, Great Western and Marnoo.
* There will also be an allocation of $1.4m on maintenance and improvement of the shire's parks, gardens and open spaces, $1.0m on major projects like the St Arnaud Town and Civic Precinct Stage 1 and the Western Highway Heritage Precinct (subject to funding) and $1.0m on major plant and equipment to keep our streets and infrastructure assets maintained.