A Northern Grampians Shire Councillor has raised concerns regarding the massive gap that exists in council's current assets and infrastructure renewal program.
Speaking in favour of adopting council's draft budget at a special meeting last Monday night, newly elected councillor, Jason Hosemans, said he had real concerns with the gap that existed between the value of asset and infrastructure replacement requirements and the available funds. The total exceeds $4 million per year.
"This is the first council budget I have been directly involved in and it has been challenging," Cr Hosemans said.
"A major area of concern for the future of this council, is the asset and infrastructure renewal gap of $4 million per year.
"It certainly does concern me and is an area of concern that a five percent increase in rates doesn't impact on.
"We need to continue lobbying all levels of government for funding so we don't become a basket case in the future when everything starts falling apart."
Another relative newcomer, Cr Merrilee Reid, said she was also excited and challenged by the preparation of her first council budget.
"I can honestly say it has made for a very interesting and educational read for myself," Cr Reid said.
Northern Grampians Shire Mayor, Cr Kevin Erwin, said the preparation of any budget was a real balancing act between ensuring rate increases are kept to a minimum, while maintaining services that ratepayers expect.
"This is always one of the most difficult times of the year for council," Cr Erwin said.
"As Cr Hosemans pointed out, we have some $380 million worth of assets and infrastructure and some desperately need to be repaired.
"We are a small rural council and that makes it difficult to try and retain and maintain our assets over the years. We need to bear in mind this also includes roads and bridges, not just structures.
"Some assets can be disposed of by council, but others you just can't get rid of and over time, they need to be maintained more and more. That is where this gap seems to open up even further.
"Things still need to change, so in preparing a budget, we look at our services.
"This budget is focused on maintaining the current level of service and while the increase in rates is only five percent, some of that revenue will go some way to maintaining our assets, bearing in mind of course what Cr Hosemans alluded us to, that there is a $4 million gap per annum in asset and infrastructure funding we receive."
Cr Erwin said one pleasing aspect of this year's draft budget is that $33 million will be allocated to projects and services across the shire.
"Council has tried to minimise the pressures on ratepayers by taking a serious look at how we deliver services and how we can improve efficiency," he said.
"About $28.7 million of the $33 million budget will be spent locally, providing significant opportunities for our businesses and contractors.
"With Northern Grampians' unemployment rate at an all-time low and the housing market buoyant, our focus is on supporting job creation and investment.
"We are also working on transformational projects that will have enduring positive impacts on our communities.
"It is vital that our towns continue to prosper, and projects like the Halls Gap and St Arnaud master plans and future planning for Great Western are just the start of great things to come."