Casey short-changed

Casey chair of administrators Nolene Duff said council is footing a larger proportion of the bill for State Government shared community investments. 234014_04

By Eleanor Wilson

Casey Council claims its vital services are being shortchanged by State Government cost-shifting.

The council cited a shortfall in funding for school crossing programs and immunisation services and a “significant financial burden” with the introduction of waste charges.

It comes as the City of Casey’s 2022-23 Draft Budget estimated council would see a reduction of 59.6 per cent or $16.7 million less in capital grants in 2022/23 from the State Government.

Earlier in the month, the Age reported a number of councils in Victoria’s seven growth areas – including Melton, Wyndham, Hume, Mitchell, Whittlesea, Cardinia and Casey claimed they had “been left to fund a greater proportion of libraries and school crossing supervisors, and identified child health services and the fire services as key examples of cost-shifting”.

The cost-shifting claims came to light after Infrastructure Victoria urged the State Government to invest in the construction of new community services in key growth areas throughout the state, to assist with heavy costs councils are struggling to pay.

Infrastructure Victoria wants Melbourne’s growth areas to receive up to $200,000 each from the State Government to plan aquatic centres, and an additional $100,000 to begin planning to build libraries, and add extra cash to help build them.

City of Casey chair of administrators Noelene Duff said City of Casey welcomed Infrastructure Victoria’s recommendations.

“Council has not been able to determine any discernable upward or downward trend among cost contributions from the State Government towards services for our community, but we do face funding challenges across some services,” Ms Duff said.

“City of Casey welcomes Infrastructure Victoria’s recommendation to increase funding to local governments to plan and construct libraries and aquatic recreation centres across growth area municipalities. “

One funding challenge for the council is the shared investment in school crossings, for which the State Government currently aims to provide a 50 per cent subsidy.

Casey Council said over the last four years it has received an average of 41 per cent funding from the State Government for the provision of school crossing services.

“Over the last four years Council has received approximately 41 per cent in 2018/19, to 38 per cent in 2019/20, to 45 per cent in 2020/21, to now 40 per cent in 2021/22,” Ms Duff said.

Ms Duff said the shortfall was due to the fact the subsidy calculation did not reflect the true council cost of staffing a crossing site and did not take into account the addition of new school builds and crossing sites across the council.

Council also said State funding for child immunisation services had not kept up to date with the cost of delivering the service to a growing municipality.

“Immunisation delivered by Council as part of its child health services costs Council approximately $535,000 (2021/22) to deliver 84 public infant immunisation sessions, targeted child catch-up programs to newly arrived residents and attending 29 secondary schools,” Ms Duff said.

“The State Government currently funds around $150,000 towards the cost of this service.”

In 2019, Casey Council wrote to the Minister for Health in an attempt to improve immunisation subsidy payments for local government immunisation programs.

The council also raised concerns about the financial burden of continually rising waste service costs.

Ms Duff said waste service standards, including the state mandated requirement for council to provide four bins to homes by 2030, would place “significant financial pressure on growth council such as the City of Casey”.

“These waste service costs will be borne by council and its ratepayers, for example, as a direct result of landfill levy increases and contract pressures, in the Draft 2022/23 Budget the standard waste charge is proposed to increase by $32,” she said.

“Council is continuing to advocate to the State Government for a fairer distribution of Landfill Levy proceeds to invest in important environmental initiatives for the Casey community. ”

Minister for Local Government Shaun Leane’s office was contacted but did not immediately respond to requests for comment.