Breaking up is hard to do

Peter Farago
A PLAN to break the Bellarine Peninsula from City of Greater Geelong council is a popular idea for many residents of the region but it’s fraught with danger – politically and economically.
The Liberal party has promised peninsula residents a vote on November 27, 2007, to decide whether they want to secede from Geelong.
While residents of the area bemoan the alleged pittance they receive from City Hall coffers despite massive increases in rates bills, opponents say their situation could become worse with a smaller municipality.
City of Greater Geelong’s biggest failing is it’s too big to manage.
Some Melbourne councils have a similar population to Geelong but not the wide mixture of land uses and ratepayer bases that creates headaches for civic leaders of Victoria’s largest provincial city.
City of Greater Geelong has to juggle competing priorities of inner-city traffic nightmares, urban renewal, underdeveloped farming and rural-residential districts and getting essential services to outlying populations efficiently and effectively.
Council’s management of the peninsula has stirred debate for years, even prompting residents to march on City Hall a couple of years ago.
The protests led to a call from Labor MPs Lisa Neville and Ian Trezise, prior to the 2002 state election, to review Geelong’s council boundaries to establish a peninsula municipality.
But the MPs went quiet when Local Government Minister Candy Broad ruled out a review after the election.
Looking back to the good old days of the Shire of Bellarine might not quite be the path residents are looking for.
Former City of Greater Geelong corporate services director Peter Gould had warned councillors on several occasions that the Bellarine Peninsula would not have an adequate rates base to fund a development deficit that residents are crying out about.
It appears the Liberal party has anticipated this issue and has listed Leopold, Barwon Heads and the Borough of Queenscliffe as “probable” inclusions in a peninsula council.
But the rates base is a serious concern that residents will need to understand before a vote.
While aluminium, petroleum and automotive production land that Alcoa, Shell and Ford call home helps support City of Greater Geelong’s rate base, a peninsula shire would have no such major financial contributor.
Instead, it would have to deal with massive competition for land between rural landowners and city dwellers looking for a seachange in new developments already placing outward pressure on town boundaries.
Developers are eyeing off land around Point Lonsdale, Portarlington, Clifton Springs and now Leopold for residential expansion.
While these would create more rates income, they would also take a significant chunk of a budget to administer, moving attention away from residents already complaining about a lack of footpaths, sealed roads and other community infrastructure.
State Government MPs have labelled the Liberal policy as populist.
But the qualified promise of a vote makes a point of difference from the Government, which has been accused of running a nanny state.
Giving a majority of residents what they want is democracy.
But the Liberal party is still being somewhat pragmatic by promising just a vote.
Residents will need to be assured that making a popular decision won’t turn around and bite them on the backside later.
If it doesn’t work and ratepayers get hurt, the Liberal party will have voters to answer to.

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