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Improvement strategies fall short

Geoff Helisma | A progress report to yesterday’s Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting advised councillors that 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. The strategies were forecasted to realise $3,794,870 in savings and/or revenue during the 2017/18 year, “increasing to $8,598,393 in the 2020/21 financial year”. The strategies were implemented in response to the Office of Local Government’s direction “to meet the required General Fund Operating Performance Ratio of greater than or equal to breakeven by 2020/21”. This, the report to council stated, is “the key Fit for the Future Reassessment Round 2 benchmark for Council to achieve”. Overall, the council has reduced its staff by 27 FTEs (fulltime equivalent); however, councillors were informed that predicted savings had fallen short of the target because “consideration was not given to the impact of redundancy and severance payments for FTEs removed from the structure”. As a result, a target shortfall totalling $519,516 due to redundancy was identified in reviews of: Environment Planning and Community Directorate structure (5 FTEs), Natural Resource Management Services (3.8 FTEs), Corporate and Organisation Performance and Governance Services (5.6 FTEs) and Parks and Open Spaces Services (1 FTE). Staff proposed that shortfalls in projected savings due to redundancies could be met through the resultant “reduced workers compensation premiums”, or by identifying future savings in the corporate services area. On parks and open spaces, the report stated “an alternative saving is yet to be identified but will be recognised by” June 30, 2016. The council’s rationalisation of its Grafton depots to the new depot at South Grafton, including a reduction of 5 FTEs, has realised savings of $349,629, however, the report to council stated that “the difficulty in identifying alternative savings is due to the ongoing rationalisation of the Depots”. “It is proposed that the remaining $52,268 be moved to 2018/19.” The decision to remove the option for ratepayers to pay their bills at post offices has reaped a partial saving of $36,000, because the “contract with Australia Post remains in place, with the option to opt out once ratepayers are fully transitioned to the online payment system”. “The remaining balance is unlikely to be fully recovered by the end of 2017/18,” the report stated. “It is therefore proposed that the remaining $16,500 be realised in 2018/19, when online payments are implemented.” Changes to the delivery of tourism services has been affected by the decision to sell the South Grafton visitor information centre (due to be auctioned on April 12). “Savings recognised to date include the removal of 1 FTE position,” the report to council stated. The sale of the property means that $70,000 in lease income will not be realised, however, staff advised that the saving on maintenance could help meet the target’s “remaining balance for the current year of $44,575”, which could “potentially be achieved by [June 30, 2016] through vacancy savings within the Environment Planning and Community Directorate”. Overall, staff advised that “the intention of the revised plan is to ensure Council achieve the full savings/income originally adopted by the end of the 2020/21 financial year”; however, “the original expected result of $8,598,393 from Improvement Strategies by 2020/21 is still to be fully recognised by the 2020/21 financial year”. The achieved savings/income of $2,663,750, as at February 2018, have been included in the 2018/19 draft budget.