• Loddon Herald

Phil's final countdown

LODDON towns could be poised for a renaissance with new challenges for the region.

Negotiating the State Government’s rate cap will not cover natural growth.

But increasing the shire council’s rate base will grow the council’s ability to provide services.

They are the “cystal ball” thoughts of Phil Pinyon as he reflects of five years as the shire’s chief executive officer and a career in local government spanning five decades.

In a fortnight, Phil will close that career and for now, enjoy time travelling Australia before international borders re-open and flights overseas are again possible.

He’s also reflecting on the collaborations with staff and stakeholders that have delivered improvements for Loddon towns since he took up the role here after stints in just about every state and territory over 25 years.

Phil’s first two decades were in local government with Payneham council in Adelaide, a job he fell into after attending a school career night.

“My father was a councillor and I thought I would give it a crack,” Phil said.

Rounding up horses, inspecting buildings, collecting rates and overseeing elections saw him become versed “in the whole ambit of local government”, study for his MBA and ready to move around the country.

That broad training and experience gives him some confidence about the future of Loddon towns, real estate sales pointing to that possible renaissance, COVID generating an appetite for remote working among people and pleased to have experienced what he describes as the refreshing ways of local government in Victoria,

“Victorian local government works very well. There’s great collaboration with other councils ... there’s a whole lot of networks that make it even more rewarding,” Phil said.

“We are dealing with issues that we have in common and I think we have been making headway.”

Phil said the characteristics of the Loddon - a dispersed population with no urban centre more than 1000 people - had been a challenge.

“This makes it more difficult to work on service delivery ... more expensive and the distances travelled, for example waste disposal, are quite large,” he said.

“The overarching challenge is to stem the decline in population which has characterised Loddon for many hears. The last census showed population numbers have been stabalised.

“We need to work on the opportunities we have, particularly where there are synergies with Bendigo as the regional capital, to get benefits of a strong relationship with Bendigo.”

Phil says Bridgewater and Inglewood were well within the Bendigo catchment and offered the alternative lifestyle of a rural setting.

“And Newbridge too ... if we could get water and sewerage sorted out,” he said.

Business cases have been done for the proposed Newbridge projects and, emphasising again the theme of collaboration and teamwork, Phil says council has been advocating the need for water and sewerage in Newbridge to members of Parliament.

“And then we have the challenge of connectivity for mobile and internet that became more apparent during lockdown times,” he said.

“And road networks too. We’ve been fortunate with funding received for the roads we maintain ... Regional Roads Victoria is challenged in maintaining their roads that are important for freight and distribution.”

These are among projects Phil will leave with the next Loddon team to bring to fruition.

“The essence of any work in council is that it is collaborative,” he said, pointing out that some achieved during his five years with Loddon started much earlier.

“Some projects can have a long gestation period. The southern water pipeline was a game-changer for rural communities ... I wasn’t here to get it moving but I was for the implementation.

“I’ve been part of the team in preparing for redevelopment of Wedderburn’s Donaldson Park that the new team will implement.

“You get a buzz seeing things get off the ground.”

Phil does, however, see some challenges in smaller towns that are battling to maintain viability.

“And climate change ... councils are now required (by law) to take that into account in their planning,” he said, praising the Loddon’s farmers as unsung leaders in adaptive land practices.

Phil’s final day in local government is July 3.

“Your job is intrinsically part of who you are. I have really enjoyed my time in local government. There have been ups and downs but the vast majority have been ups,” Phil said.

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