Council services impacted by COVID-19

by Sandi Miller
6th April 2020

WITH COVID-19 causing many disruptions to daily life, as we all try to “flatten the curve”, local councils still need to provide important services to the community, albeit at arm’s length.

As the doors closed to visitors at Council run facilities, the Diary asked Manningham and Nillumbik for details of how residents continue to interact with them during these restrictions.

Manningham City Council  

Manningham Council CEO Andrew Day said Council has modified operations to continue to provide core services to the community.

“Local government provides many important services and we understand we have a critical role to play in supporting our community at this time.”

He says Council is doing its part to contain the spread of the virus and reduce the risk to the health of the community, including the implementation of crisis management planning, in collaboration with the Victorian Government.

“Our management team is also meeting daily to direct and monitor our response to the situation as it unfolds, and for future planning.”

Mr Day said Council is continuing to provide as many services to the community as possible.

“To do this safely we are continually adapting our service delivery models and following the advice of the Department of Health and Human Services at all times,” Mr Day said.

For example, he said services like Maternal and Child Health visits are now being conducted over the phone or via video link and essential services for our elderly community, like Meals on Wheels, will continue to run with even stricter safe food handling standards.

“Since mid-March, there have been many impacts to Council events, facilities and services and we understand these impacts are being felt deeply by our community.

“At this time we ask that the community stay safe, practice appropriate social distancing, particularly in Manningham’s beautiful open spaces”

Mr Day urged residents to stay connected with family and friends via phone, email, video link or social media.

“We are all in this together, as a community we will support one another, and as a Council we will do what it takes to look after those who are most vulnerable at this time.”

For the most up to date information about COVID-19 and its impacts to Council services, events and facilities please visit:
manningham.vic.gov.au/coronavirus 

Customer service centres closed

To help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community Council’s customer service centres have closed until further notice.

This change was made following further restrictions on non-essential services and the government advice for the community to stay at home where possible.

Council rates, fees and charges 

Mr Day said Manningham Council is acutely aware of the devastating financial impacts the COVID-19 situation is having on the community.

In response, Council is considering a range of options to assist residents and community members during this difficult time.

He said more information will be made available as details are finalised.

“For those in our community who are already impacted, please contact Council to discuss hardship options,” he said.

Customers can contact Council via:

Website:

manningham.vic.gov.au

Email:

manningham@manningham.vic.gov.au 

Phone: 9840 9333

Nillumbik Shire Council

Nillumbik Communications Officer Natalie Town said Nillumbik Shire Council has closed its Customer Service Counter at the Civic Drive offices in Greensborough.

She told the Diary most Council staff are working from home where possible, and while some services have been significantly impacted, it is business as usual for many departments.

Most Council services can be conducted online including payments for pet registrations, rates, parking fines and other infringements.

If residents are experiencing hardship, they should call the rates team on 9433 3285.

If you are having technical trouble making an online payment, call Customer Service on 9433 3111 and they can talk you through the process or provide other information.

Mayor Karen Egan said the health and wellbeing of the community and Council staff was a priority.

“Council is committed to reducing the risk of the coronavirus spreading and we appreciate your patience during this difficult time.

“We urge residents to stay home and follow the recommendations of the State and Federal Governments.

“At the same time, we encourage you to look out for your neighbours, and others in the community, who are struggling.

“We will continue to monitor and update you as the situation changes over coming days and weeks,” she said.

Essential Council services are continuing, and these include:

  • Kerbside landfill, recycling and
    green waste collections as well
    as booked kerbside hard waste
    collections.
  • Food delivery services for older
    and vulnerable residents.
  • Critical Maternal and Child Health
    visits.
  • Essential call out services.

Council’s Economic Development team are offering support for local businesses.

Council’s Visit Nillumbik Facebook page @visitnillumbik is getting behind Nillumbik businesses with a Stay Home, Shop Local campaign.

Customers can contact Council via:

Website: nillumbik.vic.gov.au

Phone: 9433 3111

Swimming pool and spa registrations 

The Victorian Government has not currently advised councils of any changes to the time frame for the requirement to register swimming pools and spas.

Local Councils roll out governance updates

By JAMES POYNER

MARCH 24 was a big day for Local Government.

As well as the finalisation of a new Local Government Act, local councils also debated measures to enable them to be able to effectively govern as the threat of a worsening pandemic continues to dominate our news feeds.

An updated Local Government Act became law on March 24, 2020.

The Act provides the necessary legislative framework to enable local councils to perform their task of administering their municipality.

The Act replaces the Local Government Act 1989 and over the next 16 months, the Divisions of The Act 2020 will gradually replace The Act 1989.

It has been a long five years waiting for the updated Act to come into effect, the Local Government Bill 2018 fell at the last furlong in November 2018, when it lapsed after the Legislative Council failed to pass the bill.

The Local Government Act 2020 includes six key reforms in the areas of simplified franchise, standardising, electoral structure, training, donation reform, improved conduct and community accountability.

In July 2019, councils across Victoria were submitting responses to these areas of reform with many councils requesting The Act does not require all councils to operate as single member wards.

The proposal was generally rejected by most councils, even councils which already operated with a single member ward structure were not overly supportive of the move to simplify the electoral structure.

In their submission to the Local Government Bill 2019 in July 2019, Nillumbik Shire Council wrote:

“Given that Council already operates under a single member ward structure, the impact on Council as a result of this proposed reform will be minimal.

Council however recognises the diverse nature of councils across the state and that a single ward structure may not be appropriate in all instances.

Council would therefore advocate for the electoral structure for each Council be considered on its merits and not on a one structure for all basis.”

To the relief of many municipalities, the Legislative Council passed an amendment to The Act, which allows for a mixed system of single and multi-member representation.

The Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) has also been watching and waiting for a determination on whether the October 2020 Local Elections will be Postal or Attendance voting.

The Act specifies that the voting system to be used will be determined by the Minister for Local Government and that the Minister must make a decision on the system to be used within two months of that part of The Act coming into effect.

Documentation outlining the transition from The Act 1989 to The Act 2020 indicates this section comes into effect on April 6, 2020, which means Victorians will know how they can vote in the October 2020 local elections by no later than June 6, 2020.

However, it is worth noting — given our current situation — that the Minister has the power to change the date of an election under circumstances such as the declaration of a State of Emergency.

Council’s preparing for the worst

Manningham and Nillumbik Councils also passed motions to expand the Instrument of Delegation at the March 24 Ordinary Council Meeting.

The Instrument of Delegation means the CEO and other Officers can delegate on their behalf.

The responsibility was expanded as Councillors were concerned the current health situation may result in a scenario where not enough Councillors can attend a meeting to form a quorum.

Presently, there is no policy in place to allow councillors to conduct council meetings using teleconferencing software, which means they need to be physically present, a situation which may become difficult if social distancing restrictions become more severe.

While the vote was very cut-and-dry at Manningham, in Nillumbik, there was fierce debate with opposing councillors arguing they should be discussing supporting an initiative by the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), which is calling on State Government to give councils the legislative capability to be able to hold Council Meetings online, with Councillor Perkins standing against Councillor Clarke to argue that this is what they should be discussing.

In a statement from MAV, Cr Coral Ross, MAV President and councillor for Boorondara, said:

“Inflexible council meeting requirements under state legislation are a significant concern for local governments across the country as many council chambers do not allow for appropriate social distancing.

“This is an unprecedented situation which requires collaboration and innovative thinking.

“We have been proactively working alongside the Victorian Government to provide solutions which will ensure the health and safety of councillors, council staff and the community.

“With streaming and virtual meetings now widely available, we call on the Minister for Local Government Adem Somyurek and the State Government to make this common sense decision and enable one of these options to be implemented as alternative to meeting face to face.”

Efficient operation by Local Government in the coming months will be integral to keeping a semblance of normality to the bureaucracy of everyday life.

The Diary will continue to report on the actions of local councils and the efforts of MAV to enable them to do their job in this climate of increasing restrictions.