Funding shortfall concern

City of Casey chief executive officer Glenn Patterson said escalating demands and expectations from the community and other levels of government, coupled with inflation and rising costs, have exposed the inadequacy of current funding mechanisms. (Gary Sissons: 206237)

By Violet Li

Casey Council has revealed inadequate funding for library services and social support programs by the State and Federal Governments.

The council made a submission to the State Government’s Inquiry into Local Government funding and services.

The inquiry will look into the effects of cost-shifting from the State and Federal governments to local councils, the ability of local governments to meet core service delivery objectives, local government’s revenue structure, as well as whether these structures are sustainable and appropriate, and alternative models of funding.

“Escalating demands and expectations from the community and other levels of government, coupled with inflation and rising costs, have exposed the inadequacy of current funding mechanisms,” City of Casey chief executive officer Glenn Patterson said in the submission.

“This situation poses a significant risk to the long-term financial sustainability of councils and their ability to deliver core services, and to maintain and upgrade infrastructure, in line with population growth and community expectations.”

The submission first highlighted a funding gap for Casey’s library services.

Currently, Casey Council provides 78 per cent of Connected Libraries’ ongoing funding per year, while the State Government’s contribution has remained static over recent years even with great population growth in Casey.

Council noted that the funding dropped by 6 per cent over the past two decades.

“In 1998, state funding sat at 28 per cent. Currently, state funding sits at 22 per cent,” the submission stated.

“If the percentage of funding was the same now as it was in the late 1990s, council would have approximately $600,000 more state funding in 2024- enough to fund another branch.”

Council has already identified a large demand for new library branches in the growth areas in Casey.

Connected Libraries chief executive officer Beth Luppino submitted a letter for additional funding before this year’s State Budget as part of the advocacy campaign by Public Libraries Victoria, the peak body for public libraries in Victoria.

Together with other public libraries across the state, Ms Luppino has been calling for an increase to the Public Libraries Funding Program of $15 million over three years.

“Victorians are looking for libraries to open for longer, expand online services, deliver more literacy sessions and education programs, and make more books and other resources available for loan,” she stated.

“But Victorian Government funding for public libraries has been falling in real terms for years. It is not keeping pace with inflation nor this demand for library services, especially as our population grows.

“Giving people the opportunity of lifelong learning, access to the Internet, a sense of belonging and social connection, is only fair.”

The submission also highlighted an absence of State and Federal funding streams that enhance social cohesion.

The council estimated a shortfall of about $3.5 million in funding over 10 years. Council’s current Community Service Organisation (CSO) funding pool sits at $350,000. It provides the recipient organisation with up to $40,000 per year for three years.

Council noted that almost all applicants were seeking the maximum amount of funding each year just to maintain their program or service at current levels because other sources of operational funding had been unavailable.

“Casey’s community services sector is strong, capable, and resilient; however, is unable to meet not only the volume of service demand but also the diverse needs of emerging populations and the complexity of their needs,” the council stated in the submission.

“Increased demand is resulting in long waiting lists, service rationing, short-term solutions and the most vulnerable missing out.

“Council has more than 80 community facilities available for hire at subsidised community rates, but in a rapidly growing community with significant and diverse needs, it is not possible to provide facilities that suit every organisation,” City of Casey manager of active communities Angie Peresso pointed out.

“Council assists wherever possible to build capacity and partner with organisations that help address support service gaps and priorities and the recently endorsed CSO Growth and Attraction Framework endeavours to strengthen the community service sector in Casey.”