Councils granted extra time for budgets

The state government has extended the deadline for council budgets and annual reporting due to the impacts of COVID-19. 

Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek announced an extended deadline for 2020/21 council budgets on April 9 until August 31 and for annual reports to November 30.

Councils are usually required to adopt their budgets by June 30 and to submit an annual report by September 30 each year.

While councils are still required to give public notice and hear public submissions before adopting budgets or submitting an annual report, the extensions are open to all councils should they wish to use them.

Minister for Local Government Adem Somyurek said the government was working with councils and the Municipal Association of Victoria to consider the implications of coronavirus on their operations including the welfare of staff, compliance with the Act, elections and their meetings.

“Councils have a vital role to play in supporting and protecting local communities during these unprecedented times,” he said. 

“This small change responds to requests from councils and will ensure they have time to consider how they will change their budgets to support their residents and businesses.”

The City of Melbourne is yet to announce whether it will delay its budget amid the coronavirus outbreak. 

The news follows the announcement of a new Local Government Act 2020, which passed state parliament in March. 

Major reforms for local councils include mandatory training for candidates intending to stand at the October local government elections, as well as measures to improve “community engagement, public transparency, strategic planning, financial management and service performance.”

“We have delivered the most significant reforms to the local government sector in more than 30 years,” Mr Somyurek said. “The new laws will make councils more accountable, democratic and held them deliver the services their communities need.” 

Under the new Act, the Minister for Local Government will also have the power to dismiss individual councillors doing the wrong thing, without having to sack the entire council as is currently the case. The new reforms also put an end to overseas voting. 

LGPro, the peak body representing local government professionals in Victoria, praised the reforms as the “catalyst for modernising, reforming and re-energising the entire sector, while at the same time stamping out corruption and poor behaviour.”

It is yet to be confirmed whether the state government plans to launch a separate review into the City of Melbourne Act 2001.

It is also yet to be confirmed how COVID-19 could affect local government elections in October, however current restrictions on public gatherings are expected to impact the ways in which candidates can engage with voters. 

With so much upheaval in the central city, the Victorial Electoral Commission (VEC) is also expected to experience significant challenges in compiling electoral rolls, which could see the date of the elections pushed back.

The VEC said elections were still scheduled for October and any changes to the legislated date would be a matter for Parliament.

“The VEC’s roll production program for the 2020 local government elections, including support for roll production with the City of Melbourne elections, is continuing as planned,” a VEC spokesperson said. 

“Under the new Local Government Act 2020, all councils are required to have the same method of election (that is, all attendance or all postal). That decision will be made by the Minister for Local Government.”

New legislation announced by the state government on April 21 also amends the Local Government Act 2020 to allow virtual meetings for local councils •

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