The former Winchelsea Shire Hall.

Winchelsea Ward’s place in shire questioned

June 25, 2020 BY

THE contentious matter of the Winchelsea Ward’s standing in the Surf Coast Shire floated to the surface at last week’s special council meeting to decide on plans for a pool in Torquay.

The two Winchelsea Ward councillors – Heather Wellington and James McIntyre – were the only two councillors to vote against approving the $38.5 million plans for an aquatic centre.

While Cr McIntyre stated at the meeting “I don’t believe it adequately meets the needs of the Winchelsea ward,” he said he did not approve the proposal for an aquatic centre primarily because “I don’t think it’s financially responsible”.

However, Cr Wellington saw the plans for the Torquay facility as part of a wider issue of inequity between wards.

“Many people in the non-Torquay communities of the shire will view a decision to subsidise a pool in Torquay by nearly half a million dollars annually as quite unacceptable. They’re crying out in my ward for expenditure on unsealed roads and basic infrastructure, not luxury aquatic facilities.

“For me, the motion starkly reflects the misalignment in needs, objectives and expectations between the hinterland and the coast, and in my view, it is time for the people of Winchelsea Ward to consider whether it’s in its interest to remain in the Surf Coast Shire because this is an ongoing, continuing theme.

“Their interests are quite different, their objectives are quite different, many ratepayers in the rural areas of the shire believe that they are more aligned with the needs of Colac Otway or Golden Plains Shire, and personally, I believe it’s time we started to have that debate.”

For council boundaries to be changed in Victoria, the Minister for Local Government needs to make a recommendation to the Governor in Council.

The Winchelsea Ward is by far the largest in the shire in terms of size but is also the only one that does not include any coastal land.

In a statement, the Surf Coast Shire council said equity between wards was a multifaceted issue.

“The matter of equity in local government is complex and there is no generally agreed definition or view.

“Spending per ward or per capita may not be the best measure of equity and Council recognises its responsibility to the Shire as a whole, as well as current and future generations.”

However, council did also note that their funding for the Winchelsea Ward has seen a healthy return on what the ratepayers in the area contribute.

“One measure often raised is the ward share of Council project funding relative to the amount of rates raised in that ward. About 19 per cent of Council rates are raised from the Winchelsea Ward, with the Council project funding in the draft budget being 19 per cent, and the previous four years being 30 per cent, 19 per cent, 32 per cent and 19 per cent.

“It is also important to note, however, that project funding represents less than a quarter of Council’s overall funding commitments to communities.”