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Councillor: efficiency savings falling behind by ‘millions’

Geoff Helisma |

Councillor Richie Williams has hinted that Clarence Valley Council is falling short of meeting the NSW Government’s Fit for the Future benchmarks.

Meanwhile, counter intuitively, the NSW Government advised CVC in July 2018 that it had met its Fit for the Future requirements and that it “has been deemed financially sustainable in the long term”, a CVC media release.

At the time, the mayor, Jim Simmons, said he had received advice from the Minister for Local Government, Gabrielle Upton, who wrote in her letter: “The strategies proposed appear to be realistic and sustainable.”

In response CVC’s general manager, Ashley Lindsay, said in the media release, “All staff needed to be congratulated on the result.”

During debate at last week’s May 28 council meeting on whether or not the Ulmarra pool would be reopened, Cr Williamson made an argument for why CVC could not afford to do so.

“The undertaking that the council has already given to the state government [to be fit for the future], we are well short,” he said.

“We are well short of hitting that mark, and that’s without $2.5million of emergency services funding that we are now liable to pay.”

Revenue NSW recently invoiced CVC for $1,171,502.70, ($219,785 more than last year) for its emergency services levy contribution, which staff advised councillors, “means council will need to find additional income and/or make cuts to planned services”, as a result.

Councillor Williamson said “we simply cannot forget the fiscal undertakings given, firstly, to the community and secondly, in my pecking order, the state government, to get our business in order”.

“There have been hard decisions made here and there will have to be more hard decisions made to get across the line on our efficiency savings, because we are well short of those undertakings,” he said.

“And when I say well short, I suspect millions [of dollars], but that’s just me [making this observation].

“We’ll be working through those in the coming months; I think maybe even June, I think it’s June.

“So we are simply not in a financial position to give this undertaking today, in my opinion, and it is sad … but we gave an undertaking that we will get our business in order.”

Clarence Valley Council has committed to making improvement strategies to the value of $8.6M over four years, ending in 2020/21.

The council’s Long Term Financial Plan (LTFP), which was on exhibition among CVC’s integrated and planning reporting documents 2019/20 until May 31, outlines CVC’s sustainability obligations to produce a net operating general fund surplus in 2020/2021.

The key Fit for the Future benchmark is the Operating Performance Ratio, which is required to be greater than or equal to zero percent (0%) by 2020/21.

From a starting point of negative 10.74 per cent on June 30, 2016, CVC estimated it will be at negative 4.55 percent come the end of the 2019/20 year and at plus 0.54 per cent in 2020/21.

In March 2018, a progress report on improvement strategies implemented to meet CVC’s Fit for the Future requirements had fallen $1,131,120 below those outlined in its four-year forward planning documents.

A report outlining CVC’s position regarding improvement strategies is expected to be tabled at the June council meeting, following a councillor workshop on the subject.

Councillor Williamson declined to comment further on what he said at the meeting.