Thursday, 20 April 2017

Clarence Valley councillors bite the bullet in order to save the local government area from threat of a state government-imposed administrator

Mayor: Jim Simmons    
A/General Manager: Ashley Lindsay                                                                                                                           
Telephone: (02) 6643 0200
Fax: (02) 6642 7647


April 19, 2017

Making the Clarence Valley Council financially sustainable

CLARENCE Valley Council has voted to introduce a range of measures to improve its long-term financial position and help it meet the NSW Government’s Fit for the Future benchmarks.

The measures include applying for a special rates variation of 8% each year for three years, including an estimated rate pegged limit of 2%. The cumulative impact would be a rise in the  general rate of 25.9%, which would be retained permanently in council’s rate base. Council will also implement a host of savings measures totalling more than $8 million over four years.

Acting general manager, Ashley Lindsay, said a special rates variation, if approved, would raise an additional $7.08 million over three years.

“These measures will improve our financial position by more than $15 million over four years,” he said.

“None of this will be easy. No-one wants to pay more rates and we don’t want to charge them, but the harsh reality is the only alternative to a special rates variation is deep cuts to, or the elimination of, many of the services council provides and the community expects.

“We have been told by the Office of Local Government we need to have a balanced operating result by 2021.

“The cost-cutting measures we will introduce result in the loss of the equivalent of 24.5 full time staff positions, cuts to a range of services and better cost recovery on others. We have done everything possible to keep rate rises to a minimum.”

At the council meeting on Tuesday night, Cr Andrew Baker said that in 2012 the NSW Government’s TCorp identified the need for council to make efficiency savings and introduce a special rates variation.

He said that since then he and fellow councillors had tried to find ways to make the council financially sustainable without the need for a rates variation.

“I’m certain that each councillor that is here today was elected with an ambition to not increase the rates, to not cut services, to not cut employment, to not reduce facilities and amenities, to not increase debt and to provide responsible governance,” he said.

“Council has individually and collectively examined, debated, challenged and examined again every suggestion in every possible way to deliver on those noble aspirations of no rates increases, no service cuts, no employment reductions, no reduced facilities and amenities, and no more debt.

“While I can’t see how we can avoid a rates increase, I can say we have all made a big attempt to do just that.

“We’ve exhausted the discovery of all options and examined the possibilities and variations; we’ve called for and listened to expert advice, numerous reports and finance models. Some advice we have accepted and some we haven’t.

“We’ve looked for the best outcomes and least pain for our residents and ratepayers.”

Cr Peter Ellem said councillors had no choice but to put their hard hats on and make unpopular decisions to meet the State Government's Fit for The Future benchmarks to become financially sustainable by the end of the current four-year term, and indeed, for the decade thereafter.

“It is the shared responsibility of the nine duly-elected councillors, and not that of a financial controller or administrator, to adopt a draft package of job cuts, to be made in full consultation with the United Services Union, efficiency savings, and regrettably rate increases, to be put up for community consultation,” he said.

Mr Lindsay said council would seek the views of the community before reaching a final decision on a special rates variation application and some of the efficiency measures, and would consider a report at its May meeting on a schedule for community engagement.

Release ends. 

The Daily Examiner, 20 April 2017:

A pre-election survey by The DEX pinned four councillors against the SRV and only two, Cr Debrah Novak and Cr Greg Clancy, remained true to their word……

Cr Toms said voting for the SRV was a hard pill to swallow.

"I made declarations that I wanted better financial management and I wouldn't support the SRV and I wouldn't support excessive rate increase," she said.

"But I've had to change that position.

"When I had that position, I truly meant it... but now I have a lot more information and after a full day with the Office of Local Government (I have changed my mind)."

Cr Toms said despite the community backlash, the councillors had to make the decision.

"It's easy to criticise, people think we do the wrong thing, but the reality is that the councillors make the best decisions they can," Cr Toms said.

"I did change my mind over the SRV and that was also a very difficult decision to make, but I have to make it and I do believe I didn't have a choice."

The adopted recommendation included a detailed report which outlined that from 2017/18 to 2019/20, the council would make $15,566,987, which is more than the council's total debt of $15,343,127. The rates rise is to be rolled out 8% each year over three years which will amount to an expected total of $7.8million in revenue to come from the SRV.

Seven of the nine councillors voted for the SRV recommendation.
It will go to community consultation at the May council meeting……..

Cr Peter Ellem said the council had no choice but to make the unpopular decision.
"I believe that it is the shared responsibility of the nine duly-elected councillors, and not that of a financial controller or administrator, to adopt a draft package of job cuts, to be made in full consultation with the United Services Union, efficiency savings, and regrettably rate increases, to be put up for community consultation," Cr Ellem said.

"As a new councillor I am wiser because we have demanded and recently received more detailed information on the operational side of things, and greater clarity from the Office of Local Government."

Cr Ellem said fixing the $15million "black hole" which the new council has inherited from a "clunky forced amalgamation" needed addressing.

"My personal preference would be for the SRV component of this suite of measures to be lower than the 8% per year, but when we consult with ratepayers and residents in coming months it will become clear that a lower SRV will mean deeper cuts to local jobs and valued, if not cherished, services," he said.

Echoes of the unfortunate term of a contentious general manager linger

On 22 May 2014 North Coast Voices posted mention of Clarence Valley Council's refusal to follow the Information Commissioner's recommendation to allow a staff member access to information in a report on his conduct (which found no corrupt conduct), when in February 2014 at Item 14.005/14 they unanimously agreed to change the wording of the existing April 2013 Privacy Management Plan so that it appears to significantly depart from the Model Plan supplied by the NSW Division of Local Government.

This week the NSW Court List contained mention of this case before the NSW Industrial Relations Commission on 3 May 2017:

Yes, the allegedly destabilizing element may have been removed from Clarence Valley Council but the ripple effect flows on.

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