CASH-strapped local governments in Victoria are in desperate need of reform to balance the books, writes GREG WALSH
The most pressing issue facing councillors about to be elected to office in rural and regional areas is how best to protect ratepayers from the impact of the developing financial crisis in local government.
According to research conducted by Champions of the Bush and provided to the Victorian Government, a third of Victoria's non-metropolitan councils are unsustainable or are making little or no progress towards closing the infrastructure renewal investment gap in their local areas.
Furthermore, over the past few years nearly all rural and regional councils have become financially reliant on increasing rates and charges at about twice the pace of their metropolitan counterparts and sometimes up to five times CPI.
No wonder VFF president Peter Tuohey is so worried about the likelihood of farm rates going up to fix the growing financial problem in local government.
Champions of the Bush, which represents some of regional Victoria's largest businesses, fully shares his concerns. It is time to look at other options, and additional state and federal funding does not appear to be among them.
The need for further local government reform is an imperative.
According to Prof Brian Galligan of the University of Melbourne, the Victorian local government reforms of the 1990s "were the most sweeping public sector reforms ever made" in Australia. But they are now up to 18 years old.
Nowhere is the need to develop new models of local administration and service delivery greater than in rural and regional areas of Victoria.
The Municipal Association of Victoria has recently displayed an admiral awareness of this. It is time for the next generation of councillors to do the same.
- Dr Greg Walsh is chairman of Champions of the Bush