Highlights of the 23 March 2021 Council Meeting

Date

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Release

Councillors to attend financial briefing and meeting with Council’s CEO

As the Order made by the Minister for Local Government under Sections 438M and 438O of the Local Government Act 1993 expires on 29 April 2021, it is appropriate that steps be taken to transition back to an elected Council.

Council Administrator, Dick Persson AM said it was imperative that should Councillors return to office, they must understand their role and the systems that have been implemented to achieve good financial outcomes.

“In my 30 day Interim Report I stated that Central Coast Councillors had not come to terms with the fundamental role of their position and their functions under the Local Government Act. In my 3 Month Progress Report I noted that changes have been implemented to see Central Coast Council return to a strong financial position over the next five years or so,” Mr Persson said.

“To facilitate this, I will be inviting all Councillors to attend two appointments – a financial briefing and meeting with the newly appointed CEO David Farmer.  I would expect those suspended Councillors committed to the future of the Central Coast, and their role in it, to make all possible efforts to attend.”

Central Coast residents seek a reduction in Councillor numbers and wards

In response to the resolution of Council, the NSW Electoral Commission was advised of Council’s intent to conduct a Referendum in conjunction with the 2021 Local Government
election.

Community consultation was undertaken on two issues – the reduction of Councillors and the Ward structure, which saw:
•    78% of 613 survey participants wanted to reduce the number of Councillors from 15 to 9.
•    55% of 465 survey participants wanted to abolish Wards and have all Councillors represent the whole Central Coast.

Following this feedback, Council will conduct a Constitutional Referendum in conjunction with the conduct of the 2021 Local Government Election, which will ask Central Coast residents:

Do you favour a reduction in the number of Central Coast Councillors, from fifteen to nine, and the removal of wards? This will result in nine Councillors with all electors voting for all nine Councillors, and all nine Councillors representing the whole Central Coast.

Administrator to engage independent expert Mr Angus Gordan to review The Entrance channel management plans

Council Administrator, Dick Persson said management of The Entrance channel is an important issue for many Central Coast residents. 

“As of Monday morning, it is clear this major storm event will repeat the flooding of many of the homes damaged in the February storms last year,” Mr Persson said.

“I have been impressed with the commitment and expertise of Council staff in managing the current severe weather. I have no doubt they know what they are doing, and that everything was and is being done to minimise the impact of the weather.

“Given the importance of this issue to so many people, I have decided it is worth spending a small amount to engage an international expert to review our policy and approach to
managing the channel.

“I am hoping this review by an independent expert will restore public confidence in Council. It will result in either an endorsement or recommendation for change.”


Executive title amended to Director, Corporate Affairs and Chief Financial Officer

Council adopted a structure on 30 November 2020 which incorporates the following positions: 
• Director Water and Sewer 
• Director Community and Recreation Services 
• Director Environment and Planning 
• Director Infrastructure 
• Director Corporate Affairs 

Since adopting the structure there has been community commentary that Council no longer has a Chief Financial Officer, however at Central Coast Council the Director, Corporate Affairs is the Responsible Accounting Officer. 

To give the community confidence and to provide visibility that there is a role performing the functions of a Chief Financial Officer, the title of Director, Corporate Affairs has been amended to Director, Corporate Affairs and Chief Financial Officer. 


General Fund Long Term Financial Plan and Debt Recovery and Hardship Policy adopted

Council has adopted the revised General Fund Long Term Financial Plan which shows Council’s forecast position both with, or without a potential 15% special variation.   Council also adopted an updated Debt Recovery and Hardship Policy. 

A number of informed assumptions have been made in the General Fund Long Term Financial Plan including:

•    There will be a reduction in staff costs to headcount levels at amalgamation and increases moving forward are for award and legislated superannuation guarantee increases
•    A reduction in materials and contracts with increases moving forward capped at 0.5% as this includes efficiencies and containment of costs
•    Infrastructure spending will remain at the same level as is funded by depreciation and has been put in place for 2020-21
•    Council will manage and monitor costs and find further efficiency and productivity gains

Administrator Dick Persson AM said that modelling in the Plan showed that without a 15% special variation, Council will not be financially sustainable and will be unable to repay the restricted funds that had been spent on projects the community had benefited from.  

“We are legally obligated to repay the restricted funds which were not spent with the necessary authorisations. With a 15% special variation, Council will be able to repay $100M within ten years by delivering modest budget surpluses,” said Mr Persson. 

“I understand this is difficult times for many in our community – particularly as our region once again looks to recover from severe weather impacts to households and businesses.   We are here to help, and rebates and payment plans are available.” 

The General Fund Long Term Financial Plan and Debt Recovery and Hardship Policy received 33 submissions during the 29 days’ public exhibition period. While the submissions were reviewed and considered, no changes were made to the documents. 

Write-off of some internally restricted reserves

Council has agreed to a $20M write-off of internally restricted reserves that were in excess of requirements to meet community infrastructure needs.

Council Director Corporate Affairs, Natalia Cowley assured the community they were not missing out by this change. 

“Detailed reviews have found that a number of these internal reserves have been identified as no longer necessary to support community needs or are in excess of the amounts required to meet community needs,” said Ms Cowley.

“The $20M write-off is of value to the community as it will contribute towards the reimbursement of approximately $200M of restricted reserve debt.”

The extent of Council’s accumulated debt is $565m, made up of approximately $365m of projected commercial debt as at 30 June 2021 and approximately $200m of restricted reserves debt as at 30 June 2020 in the General and Drainage Funds. It has been proposed that this restricted reserves deficit, be reimbursed as follows:

•    Approximately $100m-$110m from Council’s budgeted surpluses over the 10 years, starting from 2021/22;
•    Approximately  $40m-$60m from the sale of Council’s property assets;
•    $20m-$40m from the write-off of reserves that can be unwound and;
•    Commercial loan in the 10th year for any remaining restricted debt balance.


Referral of draft Financial Reports 2019-2020 to audit

The draft Consolidated Financial Reports for Central Coast Council and the Financial Reports for Central Coast Council Water Supply Authority for the period from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020 were referred to the Audit Office of New South Wales, for external audit.

Council’s original adopted budget for 2019-20 financial year was an operating deficit (excluding capital grants and contributions) of $18.6 million. Council’s actual operating result (excluding capital grants and contributions) is a deficit of $88.7 million which is an unfavourable variance of $70.1 million. The operating result including capital grants and contributions (of $66.9 million) is $21.8 million deficit.

The draft 2019-20 Financial Reports for Central Coast Council and Central Coast Council Water Supply Authority were tabled at the 10 December 2020 Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee for their comment and consideration

Council was granted an extension of time by the Office of Local Government (OLG) to prepare and lodge the 2019-20 Financial Reports by 30 April 2021.  The extension was due to ongoing issues with Council’s current financial position, forensic audit and the complexities associated with the appointment of the Interim Administrator. 

The audited financial statements will be presented to the Ordinary Meeting of Council to be held in the Wyong Chamber at 6.30pm on 27 April 2021. 


Advisory Group review to yield better community outcomes 

Council has resolved to streamline and re-classify its 15 Advisory Groups and one Sub-Committee to avoid duplication, be more efficient, facilitate greater community engagement, reduce financial implications and improve community outcomes.

Council Administrator, Dick Persson AM said previously, these groups had been established in an adhoc way since amalgamation and had a one size fits all format, which has potentially limited their value.

“Advisory Groups make recommendations that inform Council decisions and over the past few years we have seen duplication in information being provided to the groups, indicating a duplication in discussions and actions for the community,” Mr Persson said.

“Where duplication has been identified, groups have been combined under new names, retaining their existing membership composition. It is also proposed that greater forethought be applied when establishing any new groups to ensure good governance and purposeful community collaboration.”

Under the new model, the 15 Advisory Groups will be revised to 11 and the groups will be categorised as listed below:

Advisory Groups 
1.    Catchments to Coast Advisory Committee (combined Brisbane Water and Gosford Lagoons, Tuggerah Lakes and Terrigal Water Quality committees); 
2.    Coastal Open Space System (COSS) Advisory Committee; 
3.    Heritage and Culture Advisory Committee; 
4.    Mangrove Mountain and Spencer Advisory Committee; 
5.    Pedestrian Access and Mobility Advisory Committee; 
6.    Social Inclusion Advisory Committee;
7.    Status of Women Advisory Committee; and 
8.    Water Management Advisory Committee. 

Working Groups 
9.    Companion Animals Working Group; and 
10.    Playspaces Working Group

Networking Groups 
11.    Economic Development and Regional Activation Network.

Council recognises the importance and commitment of all group members to their advisory role and encourages all existing members to continue their involvement. 

Council’s Statutory Committees, Community Reference Groups, Taskforces, Action Teams, Trust Committees and Internal Committees are not included in this trial.


Council continues prioritising public health 

From savings ($41,528) made on the installation of soap dispensers and some vandal guards in all 149 Council-run public toilet blocks, Council will install more vandal guards to ensure soap remains available for the community.

Traditionally, Council has not provided soap or soap dispensers in its public amenities due to a history of them being vandalised, however the COVID-19 pandemic saw a need to further support the community in prioritising public health and soap dispensers were installed by 2 November 2020.

Council has reported that between 29 September 2020 (the start of implementation) and 14 February 2021, there were 27 incidents of vandalism at 21 sites including: 
•    soap being found across the floor 
•    dispensers ripped off walls 
•    dispensers smashed, and 
•    dispensers stolen.

In each instance, Council replaced vandalised dispensers noting that those targeted were dispensers without a vandal guard cover. Council will now utilise some of the remaining funds to install vandal guards at the sites where vandalism has been experienced.

Council will also continue its scheduled cleaning across the coast.

Opportunities maximised for Central Coast Stadium

Council has adopted a Business Implementation Plan for Central Coast Stadium (formerly the Central Coast Stadium Strategy) following 30 days of consultation with the community which sought feedback on both Council’s role and the community’s involvement in the running of the stadium. 

As part of the plan, Council will now proceed with a select tender for the management and naming rights for the Stadium.

These next steps ensure Council and the community get the best value for money, that the economic potential of the stadium is optimised and that the stadium is able to meet current and future market needs.

 

Expressions of Interest to open for a Visitor-based paid parking scheme 

Council will investigate partnering with an external provider to deliver a visitor-based paid beach parking scheme for the Coast’s foreshore areas through an Expressions of Interest process.

Initial investigations indicate that visitor-based paid parking is a viable option to recoup some funds spent on infrastructure and services that are currently being enjoyed by over 5million visitors each year.

Council Administrator, Dick Persson AM said ratepayers currently carry the financial burden of visitors and in the current financial climate it is necessary to explore alternative revenue options.

“The Central Coast economy relies heavily on visitors and presently this group make no direct financial contribution towards foreshore infrastructure and services,” Mr Persson said.

“Council staff have scoped the administrative cost of establishing a beach parking system that provides protection to ratepayers; estimated a potential projected revenue stream and timeline for implementation; and determined potential foreshore areas to be considered for this scheme.

“The next step now is to determine willingness for an external supplier to partner with Council so we can progress the scheme at no cost to Council.”

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Last updated : Tue 27 Apr 2021