Councillor profiles – Mayor Mark Holcombe Mansfield Shire Council
Mansfield Shire is home to the dramatic landscapes of Victoria’s High Country. The Shire is about lifestyle, farming, all things outdoors and a ‘can do’ attitude.
Our Shire is home to Mt Buller and Mt Stirling Alpine Resorts, the Alpine National Park and the second largest inland waterway in Australia – Lake Eildon. Five major river systems have their headwaters in our Shire.
Our beautiful environment and our proximity to Melbourne means that we welcome visitors all year round and 43 percent of our rate base reside outside our Shire.
I love the strong sense of community and the natural beauty of the farmland, waterways and mountains. These are constantly changing depending on the weather and time of year and are visible from wherever you live in the Shire.
I enjoy a range of activities revolving around exercise which include surfing, yoga, and bushwalking. My wife and I are also keen travellers which has obviously been curtailed because of COVID-19.
Via the activist route
I am a newcomer to Council having been elected in last year’s November elections and came to Council via the ‘activist’ route. I have been a fulltime Mansfield resident for over 20 years and became interested in the activities of Council about 10 years ago as a member of the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF). In recent times, I was a founding member of the Mansfield Concerned Ratepayers Group which formed because of community concerns with a number of Council decisions. In the end I came to the conclusion to either ‘put up or keep quiet’.
I have a variety of business interests including farming, commercial property and helping young people who are looking to start or develop businesses. In a number of these start-up businesses, which are interstate and overseas, I am an active investor.
Before moving to Mansfield, I had a number of CEO roles in food companies both in Australia and Southeast Asia. The experience in these roles helps me greatly in areas such as finance, strategy, organisational issues, change management, culture etc. However, I find my corporate experience doesn’t help much when dealing with the varying needs of a community. Particularly when the community is where you live and when many issues are quite complex and can affect people’s livelihoods and lifestyle.
We are a small rural shire with a small ratepayer base and a large geographic footprint. This means we have ongoing challenges funding basic infrastructure such as roads, bridges, footpaths etc. The issue of waste and how we manage that will be also be a major challenge going forward.
Apart from the significant downturn in tourism, COVID-19 has thrown up a number of unforeseen challenges including our Shire becoming one of the locations of choice for families exiting from Melbourne to relocate in rural regions. This has resulted in a very competitive property market and significantly increased property valuations in our Shire. Added to this is the shortage of getting staff for virtually every sector of our local economy to the point where a number of our businesses are not opening on certain weekdays. Even if they could get staff it is extremely difficult to find rental accommodation that is affordable.
The Activating Lake Eildon Masterplan is a critical piece of work for Council, intended to support a cohesive strategic approach to visitor management, experience and growth across Lake Eildon. This is a big project and is being developed in collaboration with a number of key stakeholders including Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Murrindindi Shire Council, Parks Victoria and Goulburn Murray Water.
As a newcomer to the role, it is too early to table any successes, but the recent Community Satisfaction Survey was to me most encouraging and important. Community satisfaction was at an all time low this time last year and has risen demonstrably in the most recent survey. We still have a long way to go but this is a reflection of the hard work put in by the CEO and what is basically a new Executive, as well as the positive and decisive approach taken by the new Council.
I very much enjoy working with the CEO in helping to rebuild the capabilities of our Council and working with our community in developing a clear strategic direction.
However, as someone who has come from the private sector, I find the bureaucracy associated with Local Government somewhat frustrating.
I’d like to think that at the end of this Council’s term we have a Shire that is financially robust and is well regarded and respected by the community for its capability and customer service. It will have a very clear vision for 2030 underpinned by a Mansfield 2040 Planning Strategy which reinforces and protects what makes our Shire such a stunning place to live and work.