Value for money?

Value for money?

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Gosnells mayor Terresa Lynes, Armadale mayor and South East Regional Energy Group chair Ruth Butterfield and Serpentine Jarrahdale shire president Rob Coales show off some Rewards for Residents and Businesses from the Switch Your Thinking initiative.

A rift is beginning to form between the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale and the Cities of Armadale and Gosnells over the effectiveness of a longstanding emissions reduction program.

Switch Your Thinking (SYT) was established in 2002 by the South East Regional Energy Group (SEREG) and is a collaboration between the three member councils with the primary goal of reducing corporate and community greenhouse gas emissions, and a secondary goal of increasing overall understanding of energy-saving measures and emissions reduction.

At their April council meeting, SJ Shire councillors debated a motion to conduct a review into the benefits of the program.

“We had a recent report come back from SYT which I did question as to what benefits we were getting,” Cr Shaye Mack, who introduced the motion, said.

“We should have a look at the financial benefits and gains – to look at what we’re getting for the finances we’re putting into it, and to make sure we’re getting value for money.”

President Coales said he supported the idea of a review because it would provide ‘proof’ of how the shire spends its money, adding that it was a ‘low-intensity task’ for the shire’s CEO Paul Martin to undertake.

“And [we could] potentially use this as a way to advocate as part of that group with the City of Armadale and Gosnells, to actually tell them what we want from them moving forward,” he said.

He mentioned that he was recently “left wanting” for answers provided after questions were raised about a street light project.

Deputy president Tricia Duggin was alone in opposing the motion, and questioned why Switch Your Thinking was the sole program being thrown under the review bus.

Cr Mack explained that he was open to reviewing all groups the shire was a member of, but that they needed to “start somewhere”.

Cr Duggin also pointed out the poor timing of a review, when a “significant internal investigation over how it works for all three of the partner councils” was already being undertaken.

“All three of the local governments that are in SEREG have all said that they are not satisfied with what they’re getting,” she said.

“It’s currently going through quite a large overhaul to improve the services.”

Cr Mack then questioned why the shire would continue to “spend out ratepayer money on something that we say isn’t working for the next 12 months while they undertake changes”.

But both the Cities of Armadale and Gosnells said they were satisfied with the services they were receiving as partner councils.

Although CEO for the City of Gosnells Ian Cowie added a caveat that they “continue to assess the relevance of all programs and initiatives undertaken” and confirmed that a new business plan was currently being devised.

“The city has received support from SEREG and SYT for many of the sustainability initiatives it has been involved with over the past 20 years, predominantly in the areas of waste, water and energy,” he said.

City of Armadale mayor and SEREG chair Ruth Butterfield was effusive in her praise of the program.

“The city proudly supports all the work that SYT and SEREG do, and is delighted with the continuing engagement and outcomes that this collaboration is yielding,” she said.

Mayor Butterfield then listed some of the initiatives that SYT had helped her city implement, including solar panel and battery installations at key facilities, support in achieving annual accreditation under the Waterwise Council scheme, securing of grant funding and installation of electric vehicle charging points, installation of energy and water monitors at key facilities, and the delivery of energy efficiency audits.

She said that SEREG staff often provided expert advice about energy contracts and renewable sources to the city’s staff, and delivered “a range of interactive workshops on water usage, waste minimisation and energy efficiency to both community members and local business”.

“The city recognises the considerable value that this partnership brings to the community and remains a staunch supporter of the partnership continuing in the long term,” she concluded.

Despite their partnering councils’ enthusiasm, SJ councillors overwhelmingly voted in favour of initiating a review into what SJ was getting out of the partnership.