Council calamities continue

It seems our MidCoast Council has embarked on a public relations campaign during this CoronaVirus time, with a series of self congratulatory announcements all clearly aimed at camouflaging the many disasters of the past three years.

Mayor’s Roads Claim

Many ratepayers and residents were somewhat surprised when on May 9, Mayor David West appeared on NBN News, via webcam, claiming that MidCoast Council had been spending on average over $69 million a year on roads and bridges. 

A quick fact check of Council’s last three audited statements show that Council spent $25.76 million in 2016/17, $23.867 million in 2017/18 and $32.065 million in 2018/19 which would only be a “slight discrepancy” of $125 million over the three years.

While Council has been spending money on roads courtesy of a $50 million dollar loan, which will need to be repaid, and a matching $50 million grant over four years from the NSW Government, what is even clearer from their own published documents, is that Council has not completed all the scheduled roads projects and keep deferring many onto the next year, progressively building up a significant backlog. 

The Council Budget is a legally binding document promising to deliver various services to the community. This is why it is required by law to be published and open for public comment. 

Perhaps Mr Panuccio’s executive re-structure, amalgamating Engineering and the former MidCoast Water into one department was not such a clever idea.

Master’s Fitout

While it seems the CoronaVirus pandemic has been expedient for the MidCoast Council to curtail many services and activities and in the longer term cover-up the lack of performance on many projects, nothing stops the Masters Juggernaut. 

Mayor West has been spruiking the project claiming it will only cost $20 million dollars, when Council’s own consultants say costs will go over $39 million, and it is likely to be much more, as in recent times there seems to have been some budget juggling with certain items reportedly taken out of the original project budget. This would possibly include all IT required for the new building to now be paid for by Council from other “operational” budgets.

In these very difficult times this is not a project that should be a such priority for this Council. Why the indecent haste to ram through Masters? 

During the debate on appointment of the Contractor for the fitout of the Masters warehouse back in March, Cr Peter Epov called for a suspension of the project for six months to allow for the consequences of the CoronaVirus to be played out. At the time one of his key points perhaps prophetic at the time, was that work practices will have to change post Covid 19 which would impact on the whole system of hot desking and the structure of the proposed Masters office ultimately adding to additional costs.

How We Work Is Changing

According to National COVID-19 Coordination Commission chair Neville Power, restructuring work places is inevitable, and the way people work will have to change.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy has now similarly indicated there would likely be widespread changes to workplaces and the Sydney Morning Herald has recently published an article which entitled: ‘Hot desking is dead’: Why workers can refuse to return to the office pointing to the Federal Government’s recently released a ‘Covid19 safeplan’ for work places which now must have some influence on the structure and configuration within our big tin shed.

2019/20 Auditor’s Report

The much awaited NSW Auditor General’s Report into MidCoast Council’s 2019/20 Financial Statement has been finally published and is now available on Council’s website. The report is very revealing as it lists an endemic line of failures.

Forster Civic Precinct.

It appears work has now ceased at the embattled Forster Civic Precinct with the official excuse being the CoronaVirus pandemic.

So we have two standards: work on the Masters can proceed, but not on the Civic Precinct?

There’s a lot of people with connections to the Civic Precinct who are not happy. 

Allegedly a leaked internal council circular has been travelling to certain letterboxes around the electorate indicating the developer has run out of funds to continue with the project and pay contractors what they’re owed. 

(Remember in our October 2019 edition, we reviewed the Forster Civic Precinct and asked the question:

Is This the Dumbest Deal EVER?) 

The financial basis of the deal was:

MidCoast Council Contribution – 12,153 SQM of Prime Land in Forster (estimated value at $6M)

MidCoast Council Cash Contribution of $6M

Commonwealth Government Grant of $6M

And Developer was to contribute $2.7M in Cash and $3.3M “in kind” (whatever that means).

And in return for all this investment Council was to receive a 3,000 sqm shell for a library, which it would have to fit out at its own cost. The library was due to be completed by October this year.

Council’s Audited Financial Statements indicate that Council has paid over $12 million in cash into the project thus far. This would suggest that either the Commonwealth Government has not stumped up their share or Council has been covering the Commonwealth’s funding until it came through.  

So who authorised this additional expenditure of $6 million until the Commonwealth funding was advanced, and where did the additional money come from to cover the shortfall? Was it borrowed or were other programs axed?

And why wasn’t the developer also tied to a similar schedule of milestones and financial contributions on perhaps a pro rata basis with all other contributors?

So much for Mayor West’s claims that the Forster Civic Precinct wouldn’t cost Council an additional dollar.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that both the Member for the State Seat of Myall Lakes, Stephen Bromhead and the Member of Federal Seat of Lyne, Dr David Gillespie, may have both been approached for a bailout. 

Stand by for more uncomfortable revelations about this looming fiasco. 

Bulk Waste Collection Cancelled.

Council’s decision to abandon the highly popular Bulk Waste Collection which was scheduled to commence in May is yet again blamed on the CoronaVirus.

The kerbside bulk waste collection is the most efficient mechanism (cost and time), not only for residents but ultimately for the Council. Residents should not have to pay for a kerbside bulk waste collection when this has been an immutable right for many generations and the cost factored into our rates. Any other alternate system will only result on a time and cost shift back onto the ratepayers and residents.

We understand Council is due to re-negotiate its waste contracts for the next five years, so the kerbside bulk waste collection should be a key element of that contract.

“Shop MidCoast” TV Commercial

The “Shop Local” campaign was an idea originally conceived by a smart advertising executive but taken over by Council. We all need to support our local businesses in our communities.  But the current TV ad has to be one of the most pathetic seen on our screens in a long time. 

MidCoast Council employs a “Communications team” and is this the best they can come up with?

And has anyone noticed that the commercial is not being run on Prime 7 which has the largest market share in the entire region? (Perhaps they had the good taste to refuse to run it?)

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