Too much digging undoes ratepayers

The Bega Valley Shire Residents and Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) may be on the nose with council but were it not for the association's digging, two errors in the accounts would not have been picked up.

The results were that the original budget figures for 2017/18 adopted by council on June 28, 2017 had to be amended as did a set of councillor expenses for the year 2017/18.

The latter issue prompted Cr Russell Fitzpatrick to raise a question on notice about councillor expenses for the last three years after council's own figures showed $77,000 has been spent on interstate travel, $5000 on overseas travel and $23,000 on childcare. His question on notice also sought to curtail the time spent by staff in answering questions from the BVSRRA.

I don't appreciate wrong information being in the public realm. The ratepayers have every right to question but we need the information that goes back to them to be 100 per cent correct.

Cr Russell Fitzpatrick

Cr Fitzpatrick said his motion was based on council not putting the the right information out and councillors were being accused of "spending frivolously".

"To have that in the public realm about councillors is wrong. Everyone here is held responsible. My motion is about getting it right. We need the information going out to be 100 per cent correct," Cr Fitzpatrick said.

The general manager Leanne Barnes said the figures on council's website were wrong. In her report to council she said in the published annual report 2017-18, there was a translation error from the previous table into the document.

"It identifies correct amounts against incorrect categories and does not include the full table. This was not picked up by anyone until the "Your Council" website was launched and the BVSRRA brought it to council's attention.

We need to make sure we're not overwhelmed but they are the ones that pointed out inconsistencies in the report and in the budget. I'm not scared of scrutiny. I think that any move to regulate communication is wrong and dangerous and I can't support this.

Cr Mitchell Nadin

"The financials were inputted when financial end of year was completed. I cannot confirm the process or timing of this, however can confirm that the correct figures as included in the table in this report (in the business paper for October 30) are correct," Ms Barnes said.

Cr Fitzpatrick said that council needed to be transparent.

"I don't appreciate wrong information being in the public realm. The ratepayers have every right to question but we need the information that goes back to them to be 100 per cent correct," he said.

But Cr Mitchell Nadin was against the motion to curtail the provision of information to the BVSRRA.

All I can see is what comes across in the email and they must be in love with gipas.

Cr Robyn Bain

"They got the information off our website and we got it wrong. But this isn't going to stop them. This is about the staff and regulating the way they liaise The general manager she has prioritised certain things and I have confidence that process is underway and the general manager will regulate use of council resources, so I can't support this," Cr Nadin said.

"We need to make sure we're not overwhelmed but they are the ones that pointed out inconsistencies in the report and in the budget. I'm not scared of scrutiny. I think that any move to regulate communication is wrong and dangerous and I can't support this," Cr Nadin said.

However Cr Robyn Bain did not believe the motion went far enough, admitting that she tended to lead with her chin.

"All I can see is what comes across in the email and they must be in love with gipas (freedom of information requests). If it was corruption in the shire, I don't mind when they look at accounts, I think its a great thing, it's the other stuff. Four gipas on one subject," Cr Bain said.

There have been some errors in our reporting and in financial information provided and councillors need to be confident that the accurate information is going out.

Mayor Kristy McBain

"We tried to consult with the ratepayers, that has failed. Cr Fitzpatrick I like your motion but it's not far enough and I would like to take it further,"

Cr Bain said she wanted to take finances out of the motion the motion and foreshadowed an amendment that "with the exception of a claim of corruption or a query over finances that BVSRRA queries be dealt with as council staff resources permit".

Mayor Kristy McBain admitted there had been "some errors in our reporting and in financial information provided" and that councillors needed to be confident that the accurate information was going out.

"I believe it's incumbent on council to support staff when in a position to do so. I have nothing against people asking for information but we have to make sure our house is in order first," Cr McBain said.

The general public know a document like this is a misprint or someone pressed the wrong button, I don't know what. The amount of time and effort put in to a few people is way out of scale and in terms of results must drive the general manager round the twister.

Cr Tony Allen

Councillor Tony Allen was inclined to agree with Cr Bain's foreshadowed motion saying that the BVSRRA created "aspersions".

"At the end of the day after the discussions held and correspondence from Mr Richardson and his group of people I don't recall anything in terms of mud in terms of this council other than correcting some of the financial side issues," Cr Allen said.

"The general public know a document like this is a misprint or someone pressed the wrong button, I don't know what. The amount of time and effort put in to a few people is way out of scale and in terms of results must drive the general manager round the twister and for what, what's the upshot, what's the benefit for the wider ratepayer, nothing at all," Cr Allen concluded.

As previously advised, over the period of the last financial year, there have been a number of errors and reporting issues in the finance area. Whilst these have not been material they are a significant issue which needed to be addressed.

BVS general manager Leanne Barnes

Councillors voted for staff to only respond to the BVSRRA correspondence "within the priorities of the council's resources and that any items requiring current or historical financial data be refused until council staff are in a position to reply" with Cr Nadin voting against and Cr Bain abstaining.

Ms Barnes apologised for the error in the annual report.

"As previously advised, over the period of the last financial year, there have been a number of errors and reporting issues in the finance area. Whilst these have not been material they are a significant issue which needed to be addressed. I have instigated a financial improvement approach with the CFO and am confident that we are returning to a better practice approach. This is a priority area for me," Ms Barnes said.