$18m deficit question for council

There seems little doubt that council needs to tighten its belt with unaudited figures for the last financial year sitting at almost $10million in the red.

Council's unaudited financial report for the year 2018/19 shows the total accounts sitting at a $9.876m deficit when the budgeted figure was a deficit of $1.7m.

However, the figures that were included as a supplementary item to a council meeting on October 30 did not appear until the following day. The annual report, which councillors unanimously passed, lacks detailed financial figures, particularly with respect to the general fund which is where rates are accumulated.

The figures give separate water and sewer fund information and consolidated information. However, by adding the water and sewer funds together and deducting them from the consolidated fund, it appears council's general fund is in negative territory to the tune of around $18m for the last financial year with total expenses having increased by over $20m.

If correct it would mean that the, mainly state, grants for capital works are playing a significant role in council's finances.

The Office of Local Government states that councils' annual report must be posted to their websites by November 30 and must include a copy of the councils' audited financial reports.

Council said its annual report was published on November 29, adding that "the final audit process is well underway with only some final matters relating to buildings and land revaluations still under consideration".

"We have requested a further extension from the Office of Local Government in regards to the audited annual financial statements, which we expect to receive prior to Christmas. Once they are received, they will be will reported separately to council and uploaded to the website," council said in a statement to the News Weekly. The first meeting after Christmas is January 29.

Council's financials have not had a good run. Council said that a notation on the website will be published to note the identified error in the tabulating of councillor expenses in the 2017-18 annual report and include a link to the correct table.

"Council is working continuously to improve its financial improvement approach through our new chief financial officer, and this is a priority area for us," council said.

But previous mayor Michael Britten said it was the third year in a row that council had failed to meet its statutory requirements for transparent and complete information for its annual report to the Community (from the previous 2013 rate variation) as required by the 2013 IPART determination and the second year that it council has asked for an extension of the deadline for the audited finances which are usually due by September 30 each.

"This is the third year in a row the Bega Council has failed to meet these obligations with past annual reports being inaccurate financially (including as to councillors expenditure) and not containing any, or properly detailed SRV expenditure (from the previous 2013 special rate variation) and no audited financial information," Mr Britten said.

He said that the documents were vital when applying for an SRV, as council has already signalled, for the operation and continued running of six swimming pools.

"In the next couple of weeks council is expected to publish a plethora of documents to show it needs an 11 per cent rate increase (including 2.6 per cent rate peg)," Mr Britten added.

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