Multiple crises increase Bega Valley's financial challenges

Mayor of Bega Valley Shire Sharon Tapscott.
Mayor of Bega Valley Shire Sharon Tapscott.

Over the last three years council's finances have proved to be challenging but now mayor Sharon Tapscott wants to see some changes that she hopes will provide greater transparency.

In a mayoral minute Cr Tapscott proposes all councillors get increased access to financial information through the establishment of a finance committee chaired by the deputy mayor Russell Fitzpatrick with all councillors and the general manager, directors and finance manager as members, to meet monthly.

"This is about making the procedure proper, being transparent and being more considered and this will provide a better understanding for councillors too," Cr Tapscott said.

There have been questions raised over the 2018/19 figures which showed a deficit of $8.9m in the consolidated account which includes the general, water and sewer funds.

"There have been challenges and some poor practice in our financial reporting, we know the work that has been undertaken to get this back on track. Our finance staff are to be commended, but that is just the start," Cr Tapscott said.

There had been "strains on council's finances" since 2017 and that had prompted the need to reduce the asset portfolio, review services, divest council of land and buildings, and consider increases in revenue including SRVs (Special Rate Variations), she said.

The swimming pool SRV has been abandoned following the bushfires but the matter of funding the ongoing cost of the shire's swimming pools and their replacement in the future still remains.

"We've still got six pools to look after," Cr Tapscott said.

"We have also resolved to restructure the staffing of the organisation twice to reduce operating costs; we have suffered five natural disasters (including the current pandemic), we have received unprecedented levels of funding for capital projects, several which we have not even had on our asset management plans. All costs have been growing well more than the rate peg increase and some additional imposts have been placed on local government," Cr Tapscott said.

Council has not had any above rate peg increase since 2015/16 however costs have increased significantly above the rate peg and even with the reductions it is still a challenge, we have been under financial stress walking a fine line.

Bega Valley Shire mayor Sharon Tapscott

Getting funding for something new but unplanned, can be pleasing for the community, but can also provide council with a problem in terms of ongoing costs that were not in the budget.

For example if council receives $10,000 for a new piece of community infrastructure or equipment it must manage it, maintain it and ultimately at the end of its useful life, replace it.

If it is lasts for 10 years, council would expect to pay for a new item at that time which will be $10,000 plus inflation. That money has to be budgeted over the 10 years, not just for the cost of replacement but for the ongoing maintenance to ensure it lasts the allotted 10 years.

"With staff wages increasing by 2.5 per cent, construction costs increasing by about 8 per cent and the Financial Assistance Grant (annual grant from the federal government) frozen for three years, the rate peg of 2.6 per cent gets eaten up as soon as it is received. CPI (Consumer price index) has little relationship to the real marketplace," Cr Tapscott said.

"Council has not had any above rate peg increase since 2015/16 however costs have increased significantly above the rate peg and even with the reductions it is still a challenge, we have been under financial stress walking a fine line."

To add to the burden, council must isolate the costs associated for any work relating to bushfires, floods and COVID-19 even if they relate to the same piece of infrastructure or emergency assistance, something that staff have outlined in council meetings to be a huge workload.

"Finding the cost of the bushfires is a real job, not only what we have had to replace but also what has not been funded," Cr Tapscott said.

"From now on we really can't do anything unless we have the funding for it. I'm hoping this mayoral minute will be a way we can all understand what's happening. It's a recognition that things need to change and information needs to come out into the public in a more streamlined way," Cr Tapscott said.

Comments