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dodgy numbers … or dodgy fruit

Dear Beagle Editor, We read with interest the letters and opinions of your contributors who often make fruit references to your council financial reports offering the challenges of assessing and comparing them from one year to the next (or even one quarter to the next) as being more like comparing pineapples with bananas rather than apples with apples. Your readers might be interested in our media release. dodgy numbers …

In the middle of May this year, residents & ratepayers were once again challenged by the Byzantium complexity of local government planning & financial management when confronted with 1200 pages of documents placed on public exhibition by Bega Valley Shire Council (BVSC), including the draft 2017-2018 Operational Plan & Budget.

The BVSRRA immediately called for council to focus its energies on reducing its expenses, while maintaining service levels, in particular by cutting its General Fund Operating Expenses by at least 4% or $1.6M by reducing key expense items such as legal fees, consultant’s costs, communications costs, general expenses & if necessary, employment costs.

The BVSRRA was delighted by the subsequent effort made by councillors in budget discussions to focus their attention on cost reductions, whilst maintaining service levels, which culminated in a number of positive changes to the draft budget being adopted at the budget meeting held on June 28th, 2017.

Needless to say, the BVSRRA was concerned to ensure that the intentions of councillors wound-up being reflected in council’s amended budget for 2017-2018. On that basis, the BVSRRA wrote to council’s general manager requesting a list of all changes/amendments made to the draft budget & in the case of the General Fund, details of all changes/amendments, including the original amount budgeted for each expenditure item amended & the amended amount adopted in the final budget.

In response, council’s general manager advised the BVSRRA on July 14th, 2017 that “The amended documents will be published on Council’s website when Councillors adopted amendments from that meeting have been incorporated into all documents, anticipated by the end of July, 2017.”

Council has posted updated documents on its website, including an amended but incomplete version of its 2017 Delivery & Operational Plan, with the revised documents providing only part of the information necessary to compare the revised plans with those originally placed on public exhibition. So, what can we deduce from the updated information?

The BVSRRA would argue that the information published on council’s website, ostensibly detailing council’s Operational Plan & Budget for 2017-2018 is wholly unacceptable. Moreover, that council would expect residents & ratepayers to be satisfied with such poor quality information is a mark of its unprofessional management standards, as well as its contempt for the community.

The BVSRRA believes that it is high time that councillors made it clear to council management that they are not willing to accept its ongoing substandard performance, with the very first step required being to publish a meaningful Budget, along with a comprehensive explanation as to the changes that have been made to the draft Budget originally placed on public exhibition.

John Richardson


Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association


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