Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Time For Change

Time for Change

Over the last few weeks the ERA have attended various public and council meetings. The public are demanding real change within the ESC. The public view the ESC as responsible for preventing the Eurobodalla from thriving. 

Unless ESC responds immediately with specific actions to address specific issues, in accordance with the demands of the ratepayers, then surely this Council will cease to exist in its present form.

We need new management at a high level at the council and we need it quickly. We insist that ALL the known blocks to economic growth are removed. We need all the bureaucratic and political red tape to stop. We need clear future direction and vision, driven by the community, articulated by the Mayor, who must lead for the community and cease being an apologist for the ESC.

The 10 key actions that we, the ratepayers of ESC require are:

  1. . Completion of the Rural Lands Review Strategy and an LEP within 3 months, amended to reflect the community demands ( “like for like” zoning, NO E zones or Overlays, no minimum lot sizes , no requirement for a council maintained sealed road and no sun-setting clauses on rural dwelling entitlements )
  2.  That Council review its SLR policy to the satisfaction of the those affected in the community 
  3.  An immediate reduction in non –essential services that we cannot afford and internal structural change / reduction in ESC staff that improves efficiency, to ensure that core essential services are provided. An external review of services is required.
  4.  Reform of the planning departments’ policies to attract development and facilitate home building 
  5.  Relaxation of blocks to developers and investors
  6.  Adopt strategies that attract funding for major developments and aggressively pursue infrastructure grant monies, and use those monies for their purposes WITHIN A DEFINED TIMEFRAME (e.g. The Spine Road)  
  7.  A concerted effort to get the population / rateable base UP in this Shire by attracting new business and people, and by making the shire an affordable place to live 
  8.  That ESC addresses infrastructure maintenance issues 
  9.   That council releases its FFTF document for community discussion before June 30th
  10.  That all senior personnel are on performance contracts and all other staff are on a productivity improvement scheme.
To implement this regime of change it is recommended that the ESC finds a suitably qualified individual   [number two to the GM] to oversee this program. This person must advocate for the community demands and drive effective change in almost all aspects of council business.

We will strongly advocate for State Government intervention if the ESC refuses or fails to comply.

Sincerely the ERA Team

Chart: According to this information from IPART, ESC’s Full Time Equivalent staffing cost is about $6MILLION above the Group 4 average and about $7.5MILLION above the State average.

When Consultant / Contractor costs are added, ESC appears to be about $4.5MILLION above both the Group 4 and State averages.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Fit For the Future Update

Fit For the Future Update

Many Shires across NSW are verging on financial non sustainability and the time has come to reckon with the facts.

For many years now, the ERA has been trying to get the ESC to confront a reality that they continue to ignore.

The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal  (IPART) has been engaged by NSW Government to assess whether ESC is Fit for the Future. IPART has written to the ERA inviting us to make a submission, and we are now asking the Eurobodalla ratepayers and residents for their views.

Some background beforehand:

On June 30th this year, the NSW government will be making a decision on what form the future ESC local government will take. If you are unaware of this, it is because our council has failed to engage the community early enough to bring residents and ratepayers with them on this important journey. Many other Shires, by contrast, have engaged early and actively with their affected communities to ensure that their residents are fully informed and involved in the process. 

By the 16th of October this year, the NSW Government, based on the assessment of Eurobodalla Council by IPART, will have made a decision about the financial viability and ongoing sustainability of the Eurobodalla Council as a local government entity.  

The conversation before June end, and October the 16th must NOT be just between IPART and Council staff and Councilors behind closed doors.

The ERA has been demanding a major external efficiency review for some years. A review that is open, transparent and above all honest. Council has lost the communities trust to honestly and critically review itself.

Currently, ESC has admitted that it will fail the long term IPART criteria fitness tests that relate to operating performance and own source revenue. IPART will propose in their report that if these benchmarks are not met within five years, then the ESC may not be viable.

Even if IPART grant approval of the 21% SRV application to the Council this month, the next increase application in three years’ time will have to be considerably higher for the council to reach its financial targets. That money will once again come from already burdened ratepayers who can ill afford these rate rises. We are nowhere near ‘Fit for the Future.’ 

Our ability to fund Infrastructure has been rated as poor. There is a real problem when Council are given $11 million to finish the Spine Road in early 2014 and the Council responds saying they may be able to start the project in the latter half of 2016!

There are, however, other ways of meeting these benchmarks. Council could dramatically reduce its 120 plus delivery operations to just a core number of programs – remember the good old days of Rates, Roads, and Rubbish?  This is what the Community told ESC via the Micro-mex community surveys not so long ago. 

On 16 October, there could be 4 possible verdicts that will change our local government:

  1. We remain a Shire in our own right but implement significant structural changes to ensure that we meet the benchmarks for sustainability. E.g.:    We could reduce the number of service delivery programs that now stand at over 120. (Should we really be showing people how to cook and walk, building worm farms, and learning how to ride a motor bike?)
  2.  We could dramatically reduce indoor staff numbers.

  3.  We merge all / part of Eurobodalla Shire with either / both Shoalhaven or Bega Valley Shire 

  4.  We enter into Joint Organization arrangements with neighboring Shires in an attempt to reduce operating costs -e.g. we could radically reduce costs by amalgamating many of our backroom services with other councils e.g. IT services.

The community need Eurobodalla Shire Council to lead the discussion on this. The ERA are listening, writing and organizing, but nobody at ESC seems to be interested, unless you read a weak article about the subject published by the Bay Post.

Surely, by now, the Mayor and Council should be organizing community meetings. The three casual drop in sessions at local markets and malls are not public consultation and Council is not taking any public submissions on the matter.

There is to be a meeting on May the 9th in the Bay to discuss many of these issues, organized by a group of concerned Batemans Bay citizens. The ERA will be attending to listen to people’s views.

However let us have your comments on WHAT YOU WANT to happen to your council ASAP and we will include them in our Submission to IPART. This has to be completed by the third week of May.

Sincerely the ERA team