EDITORIAL: When numbers count, beware of promises

Money coming out of a broken piggy bank piggy bank. Broken. Generic.
Money coming out of a broken piggy bank piggy bank. Broken. Generic.

After almost five and a half years - normally four years - we will be voting in our new council. And while there are several issues about which the community has let us know they are concerned, much will hinge on council's financial position.

Council staff have moved mountains from a time when financial figures appeared in a meeting business paper only to be superseded on the day of the meeting by new, reworked numbers.

Now at least we know where we are - and it's not a particularly comfortable place.

As can be seen from the first quarter figures to September 30, and from the accounting officer Judy Jordan's own statement, the figures are 'unsatisfactory' with regard to the projected estimates of income and expenditure.

If we are to get out of negative territory there are only two ways to do it - increase income or reduce spending. And that means higher rates or invariably lower service levels.

Cutting staff costs can mean the expense moves across to another column called contractors, but is still a cost.

There is no doubt the shire has faced extreme challenges in the last five years. In his end of term report, acting CEO Anthony McMahon mentioned the three major bushfire events, multiple significant flooding events and a once-in-a-lifetime (we hope) pandemic.

These events have prompted some of the $85million in grant funding that council has on its books for this current financial year.

So that's all good - we just go and spend it right?

No. Often the grants were applied for and costed a couple of years ago. In the intervening period, costs haven't just increased, where building is concerned, they have skyrocketed. How to deal with the shortfall is an issue, because there's no allowance for shortfalls in council's budget, nor could it be expected.

And so with voting already underway I would caution anyone to look carefully at what prospective councillors are promising. Beware of anyone promising to increase services and not increase rates, or conversely to keep rates down and not cut services.

Beware of promises relating to roads that could be sealed, potholes fixed, more toilets, or prettier gardens. If it's not in the budget, there's no money for it.

- Denise Dion, Senior Journalist

This story EDITORIAL: When numbers count, beware of promises first appeared on Bega District News.