Summary notes from three Ward Meetings on Council’s Draft Plan and Budget 2021-2031
Listen. Talk. Local. - Conversation with Councillors
Canal Ward Meeting, Sunday 9 May 3.30-5.00pm
Elwood & St Kilda Neighbourhood Learning Centre
Facilitated by Simon Lewis
Fifteen people attended and shared their ideas and views with two of the Canal ward councillors Mayor Louise Crawford and Councillor Tim Baxter. Councillor Rhonda Clarke was an apology.
Both Councillors highlighted issues they saw as important to achieve/address in Canal Ward during the current Council term. These included:
- Investment in community/social issues
- Flooding in Elwood
- Open space issues for East St Kilda/Balaclava/Ripponlea
- Continued support for the Arts
- Water management
- Environmental issues
The need to address misinformation, both inside and outside the Council Chamber was also seen as critical, with concern that misinformation, inaccurate statements and lies are a problem.
Attendees raised a number of issues and concerns (bolded ones mentioned by several participants), including:
- The need for a bolder Council and community vision to address critical challenges such as the climate crisis and the social and economic emergency due to COVID-19; as opposed to just maintaining the status quo or freezing rates and cutting services.
- Importance of investing in Blue-Green infrastructure, and high-level planning to meet the challenges of climate change, including better integrated water management to control pollution into the Bay (problems with Head St drain proposal as currently envisaged).
- Inequity in spending across different areas of the municipality, especially in relation to open space – this should be addressed and more spent in areas where it is most needed.
- Stronger emphasis on reducing community emissions is needed in the Plan.
- Green waste, or Food Organics Garden Organics (FOGO) bins should be rolled out across the municipality.
- Sustainability staffing needs expansion, currently only 1% of all Council staff.
- More support for community services (e.g. PCYC – only public gym in the city).
- Social and affordable housing needs a boost, Council can’t rest on past laurels in this area.
- Why does Council have no concrete plans to borrow or draw down on reserves for big projects like property acquisition for open space or partnering with State Government to increase social and affordable housing?
- One attendee was concerned about rate increase of 1.5% and wanted a rates freeze.
- Consensus needed about values underpinning the Draft Plan: addressing needs of the community, importance of the public good, intergenerational equity and value for money; also concern for renters, not just owners/investors.
- Support for maintaining Council’s $1 mill commitment to Elsternwick Park/Elster Creek with some uncertainty expressed about Council’s actual ongoing commitment despite the $1mill in the Budget over this term.
- Support for not axing free access to Rippon Lea Estate Gardens, especially given lack of open space east of the Highway.
- Support for a feasibility study to develop the Green Line proposal for a walking/cycling trail along the railway line from Alma Park to Elsternwick.
- Ongoing council funding for the Volunteer gardening program at the EcoCentre, currently to be cut.
- Reinstatement of access to, and cleaning of toilets a Poets Community Garden.
Louise gave a clear account of the need for the 1.5% rate rise, arguing that the increases enabled Council to invest in community services in ways that benefited the most vulnerable, rather than forego the rise, which would benefit only a minority of the community. On average the rise equals about $27/annum. Rates of course are a property (wealth) tax, so if a property has greatly increased in value, then rates will be affected by that, a separate issue to the 1.5% increase proposed by Council. She also noted that Port Phillip has the most generous scheme of all Victorian councils to address rates’ hardship for those in genuine need.
Both Louise and Tim confirmed that all the current councillors are united in their support for FOGO bins and progress should be made this term, in concert with the changes announced re glass recycling by the State Government (four bins rollout).
Tim agreed that greater ambition was needed in regard to fixing inequities in open space funding and expressed a view that Council should go back to the drawing board with the draft Public Space strategy to achieve a more ambitious plan, especially for the areas of Canal Ward with little public green space.
Both councillors commented on the challenges inherent in the composition of the current Council, with several Councillors wanting to cut spending at every opportunity, even for small potential savings. Both emphasised the importance of providing feedback on the Plan, via Have Your Say, especially on areas slated for cutting of programs/services. Community feedback will likely have an impact on decision-making. The proposed areas for service reduction are listed on the Have Your Say page.
Lake Ward Meeting Saturday 15 May 11.00am-12.30pm
South Melbourne Community Centre
Facilitated by Jan Cossar
Thirteen people attended and shared their views with one of the three Lake Ward Councillors, Katherine Copsey. Councillors Christina Sirakoff and Andrew Bond were both apologies.
Kat began by acknowledging the tumultuous year for both Council and community due to the pandemic and the current Draft Plan and Budget is reflective of this particular moment in time. Much of it continues and completes projects started in the last term. There is also unfinished business, such as responding to the waste and recycling crisis that emerged last year and the State Government’s plans in this area. The Draft Plan includes two separate documents summarising Council’s response to the Climate Emergency and to the Social and Economic Emergency brought on by the pandemic. She acknowledged that these are really only initial responses, needing much more work. The list of proposed service reductions highlighted in the Draft Plan reflect considerable debate on Council in coming to agreement, and community feedback is sought on these to inform final decision-making. Kat named investing in the community as a critically important role for local government and as councillors they are really stewards of the area for current and future generations. The Council used a community deliberative panel process for developing the Community Vision in the Draft Plan, something now required by the new Local Government Act 2020. She is supportive of increasing deliberative processes on particular issues to increase grassroots democracy.
Comments and discussion covered a range of issues:
A common theme was how Council communicates with the community and the desire for a deeper delivery of the community engagement process:
- with Divercity gone there is no way for those who are not internet users to find about what is happening
- inadequacy of neighbourhood pop-ups, (e.g., went to a pop up and all they wanted to talk about was a bike path up Inkerman!)
- Current communication is focused on individual contact with officers or councillors, not shared conversations as citizens together with our ward councillors
- Face to face meetings with Councillors are the “real” deal, with council officers also present as needed
- Council meetings as currently structured, give little opportunity for dialogue and conversation; could be re-designed to facilitate more dialogue on issues before Council
- Inadequate feedback when issues raised with Council: too often questions are taken ‘on notice’ and no follow-up. (Kat mentioned that answers to anything taken on notice at meetings is included in subsequent minutes of meeting)
- Have your say portal – online surveys inadequate as questions framed by Council intentions rather than from community perspectives (note: several meeting attendees were not aware that Have your say exists)
Other issues raised:
- More ambitious vision needed in Plan, with a focus on equity.
- Concern expressed about the uncertain ongoing funding for Friends of Suai, noting that this is a longstanding Council program, supported by a recently renewed MoU with Suai in Timor Leste, not a community group or charity seeking council support.
- Councillors may have no sense of community history or previous decisions and so break agreements without understanding the ramifications.
- Council borrowing for major projects/capital expenditure was raised. The Draft Plan has no concrete proposals. (Kat explained Council preparedness to borrow if specific projects identified.)
- Discussion of the “common good” – most agreed that working for the common good is what Council should be about.
- There was some concern about whether councillors are bound by the Community Vision once it is adopted.
- Questions about Council staffing and costs in relation to increased staffing in the CEO’s office were raised. (Kat agreed to follow the questions up, if emailed to her.)
There was general agreement that ward meetings like this one are worthwhile and should happen regularly.
Everyone was encouraged to express their views to Council about the Draft Plan via a submission on Have Your Say by 23 February.
Gateway Ward Meeting, Sunday 16 May 3.30-5.00pm
Liardet Street Community Centre, Port Melbourne
Facilitated by Trisha Avery
Fourteen people (and one dog) attended, as did all three ward councillors: Councillors Heather Cunsolo, Marcus Pearl and Peter Martin.
Key issues named around the room in initial introductions included:
- Investment in social housing needed
- Support for the 1.5% rate rise
- Investments in sustainability critical in light of the climate emergency
- No cuts to community services
- Queries about why no borrowing at all
- Return of a full ASSIST service at Port Melbourne needed – online service not adequate
- More attention needed on protecting the Bay from stormwater pollutants
- Community meals program to receive support to operate out of the Liardet Community Centre
- Concern about the quality of Council contract monitoring
- Concern about the future of the Montague Precinct and community infrastructure as part of Fishermans Bend Urban Renewal project.
- Council’s list of service reductions is of concern, with a query about whether community feedback can change the final decisions about these.
In their introductory remarks, all three councillors affirmed their commitment to representing their Gateway Ward constituents.
Peter Martin commented on their attendance at the meeting as indicative of their capacity to work as a team for the community in spite of political differences. His stated passions are social justice issues and in particular social housing. He has been surprised since being elected about how much more Council does for the community than he realised, though is still not sure if it could do so more efficiently, or if Council gets best value for money from its staff, while noting that staffing numbers have been trimmed significantly recently. As a new Council, a lot had to be achieved in getting the Plan and Budget in place in a few months and there were long debates, with many disagreements. Peter is keen to hear from the community about what might have been missed, and what they want in or out.
Marcus Pearl noted that no one is happy with the Draft Budget, but the facts are that the City has a strong financial foundation to build on. Currently there is around $232mill in expenditure. While there is no capacity to make a profit over the term of this Council, there are good levels of cash reserves to be drawn on judiciously when needed for major capital projects in the future, so no need for borrowing, and certainly not for operating expenses.
There are some major and difficult challenges ahead, one being infrastructure, such as our ageing drains that need urgent upgrading.
Heather Cunsolo commented on her being a new councillor who is still learning on the job and who is committed to hearing views from all sides. She is very conscious of her role as often being the deciding vote on a Council that is politically divided, but she emphasised that often there is a shared vision for the community and that is what must be the focus. Where it became difficult was the level of disagreement about how to put that vision into practice, with many difficult discussions during the Budget process. What Heather hopes to offer as a councillor with three young children are community viewpoints gleaned from the sports fields and playgrounds. She is rather sick of some of the politics involved on Council and believes they should all work together for the community.
All councillors expressed a willingness to listen to and respond to the issues raised by those present.
The ensuing conversation covered the following key areas:
- Would all three councillors agree to regular ward conversations/meetings like this, but organised by Council on a quarterly basis? The concern with the current neighbourhood pop-up process was that they are individual conversations with an officer or councillor and give no opportunity for everyone to exchange views and ideas.
Peter and Heather agreed, though Heather noted the need to reach out to more people to attend, not just those who always come to meetings; and Marcus stated a willingness to trial ward meetings for 12 months, while noting he found the neighbourhood pop-ups he had attended to be very helpful in talking with lots of people. Marcus is also keen to try a sub-committee model on Council as some other councils have, to enable more engagement with community.
Further thoughts from the attendees on this included:
- Meetings enhance participatory democracy and giving voice to citizens’ views
- Getting as many views as possible represented is important and issues-based meetings might be good
- Group discussions are important for members of the community to hear each other’s views.
- How much leeway is there in the Draft Budget for adjustments in response to community feedback?
The Councillors all want feedback before making final decisions and Marcus made the point that there is perhaps more leeway than usual to adjust policy and budget settings this year, given it is the first Draft Plan and Budget for the new Council term.
- Brief comments about the prospects for Council borrowing for big infrastructure/capital projects were made, referring to the fact that other Council are borrowing for major projects; so why not Port Phillip, e.g., for property for social housing development in the city in partnership with State Government’s $5.3 mill Big Housing Build partnership program, or for increasing open space where it is lacking?
Councillors were not opposed to borrowing when appropriate, but projects need to be identified. Marcus noted that he believed social housing to be a State government responsibility, although working in partnership with local housing groups was important.
- A Concern about how well Council contractors are monitored to ensure the contracted work is actually done (example of garden maintenance not happening, and overhanging limbs in same area being dealt with on several different occasions instead of all at once).
Agreement that contracted-out services do need officer vigilance.
- Need for actions on climate to be integrated into one Climate Emergency Action Plan, given the plethora of different policies and plans that don’t always dovetail well.
Heather was supportive of drawing the plans together for greater clarity.
- A concern was raised about the need for greater equity in relation to open space across the municipality, and support for maintaining free access to Rippon Lea Estate Gardens was expressed as a way to address this cheaply in a part of the city with less open space.
This is one of the service reductions slated for community feedback and Councillors were encouraging of people sharing their views on this, and other proposed cuts/changes which can be viewed here on Have your Say where individual feedback can be provided.