‘Healthy’ budget defies Covid


By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Despite rate capping and a $17 million Covid hit, Greater Dandenong will spend big on capital works in its draft 2021-‘22 budget.

Residential rates bills – including waste charges – will rise on average by $27.60 (up 1.92 per cent).

The median household rates will be $1467.

Meanwhile, commercial businesses get some rates relief – down by an average of 3.9 per cent.

The council’s proposed $63 million capital works program is up by $20 million on 2020-‘21. It is being presented as a stimulus measure.

“Capital spending will stimulate local employment, businesses and suppliers,” chief executive John Bennie stated.

“The budget is one that strikes a good balance between ensuring Council continues to provide operational services and support to the community and a capital spending program to provide much needed local infrastructure.”

The largest capital works outlay is $10.2 million for the final stage of Keysborough South Community Hub – largely funded by loans, development contributions and State funding.

Other major projects are Ross Reserve’s new pavilion ($7.9 million), Noble Park Aquatic Centre gym ($4.2 million), Thomas P Carroll Reserve’s Crowe Pavilion ($3 million) and the detailed design of the new Dandenong Oasis ($3.3 million).

The council will borrow $30 million towards the $60 million Oasis redevelopment in 2022-’23 and 2023-’24.

Dandenong Community Association welcomed the $325,000 allocated for detailed design of the long-awaited Dandenong Community Hub.

Spokesperson Silvia Mastrogiovanni said it was “great news that the Dandenong Community Hub is finally on the move”.

“We need one that is a neighbourhood hub, a positive place with a home like feel where Dandenong residents can relax, connect and learn as well as get access to modern children’s services like other suburbs”.

“Covid-19 has shown what the cost of feeling disconnected is. A new heart for Dandenong is what is needed for what sometimes feels like a fragmented suburb for residents.”

More than a third of the 2021-’22 capital works is funded by capital grants, reserve transfers and loans.

Works on Abbotts Road, Colemans Road, Callender Road, Douglas Street and Springvale Boulevard are also funded.

More than $43 million would be spent on asset renewal and upgrades.

The need to replace roads, drains and buildings was becoming “urgent” due to much key infrastructure built in the 1960’s and 1970’s approaching expiry.

Greater Dandenong is forecasting a $17 million cost from the Covid pandemic across 2019-’20 and 2020-’21, including its food, rent and rates relief packages.

The council’s interest on investments are forecast to dip by $1m, with also expected drops in car parking revenue, supplementary rates and Dandenong Market rent returns.

Cr Sean O’Reilly expressed surprise how well the council’s finances endured the “strain of Covid”.

He said the council had continued to prioritise important services, which were needed in “these difficult times”.

Mr Bennie stated the council’s finances remained “healthy”.

However he warned this position would be tested by the “compounding effect of rate capping and Covid-19 after-effects”.

“Council will either have to make significant changes to its operational services or accept that timelines for new projects will face longer term delays in order to be affordable for Council.”

In another sign of Covid’s impact, overall properties in Greater Dandenong lost 1.71 per cent in value, budget papers stated.

Public submissions on the draft budget close 5pm on Wednesday 26 May. Details: https://www.greaterdandenong.vic.gov.au/proposed-budget-2021-22