At the MidCoast Council Meeting of 7 September it was revealed that once again, for the fifth successive year, Council has failed to complete promised Capital Works projects on time as committed in the 2021/22 Budget.
Nearly $50 Million in capital works projects had to be “re-voted or carried forward” into the 2022/3 Financial Year. Meaning that they had not been completed to schedule and we suspect not to budget. These projects represent 20% of Councils entire 2021/22 Budget.
The Council Report proudly boasted that there was a reduction in the dollar value of projects ‘re-voted’ or ‘carried forward’:
“The total amount of all ‘Revotes’ and ‘Carry Forward’ items as indicated in Attachment 1 is $49,975,420.00.
By way of comparison, during the 2021-2022 financial year $53,205,167 was carried forward from the 2020-2021 budget.”
What an extra-ordinary admission, our Council has managed to reduce the number of the projects that they failed to deliver in the previous year by $3 Million.
“Attachment 1” to the Council Report showed the 215 projects had not been completed by the end of the financial year including over $18M for road works.
A Record of Failure
|Financial Year||Re-Vote||Carried Forward||Total Incomplete|
|2018/19||Not made available||Not made available||$46,376,670|
The failure to complete Projects on time over the past 5 years is a demonstration of poor long-term planning and execution of projects. There are significant long term budget impacts when projects aren’t delivered on time, leading into an environment of higher inflation when the costs to deliver what should have been done in the past, are now required to be delivered in a higher cost environment. This results in there being insufficient funds to deliver to other projects and services as Council has to rob Peter to pay Paul.
At present, it appears the only ‘Performance Measure’ to monitor the delivery of projects is to look at the large list of what hasn’t been delivered, well after the event.
It is our elected Councillors who are ultimately responsible to ensure that the appropriate mechanisms are set in place so that Council is able to deliver projects on time, to budget and to the required quality expected by the Community.
As an illustration, there was $77.5 Million in depreciation across Council’s Infrastructure, Property, Plant and Equipment. Approximately $56 Million of that was in Roads, Bridges, Water and the Sewer Network. A “Project Program” delivering this order of projects year on year is required just to keep pace with the deterioration of existing infrastructure alone, then on top of this there is a requirement for additional investment in order to improve the infrastructure network. Failing to keep pace with “maintaining the infrastructure network” inevitably results in an “Infrastructure Death Spiral.
And, if you want to understand what that looks like, just drive the roads and look at the bridges and culverts following any heavy rain event in the MidCoast LGA. This is infrastructure that has either not been properly “constructed for purpose”, or that has not been maintained correctly and is at breaking point.
More Broken Promises
Each Council is required by law to have a Four-Year Delivery Program and an Annual Operational Plan, these two documents are intended to list the commitments that a Council makes to its residents and ratepayers.
Section 406 of the Local Government Act 1993 provides that Councils must comply with the Integrated Planning and Reporting Guidelines, which state that:
“4.9 The general manager must ensure that progress reports are provided to the council, with respect to the principal activities detailed in the Delivery Program, at least every 6 months.”
The recent review of Council’s Delivery Program and Operational Plan for 2021/22 showed that of the 308 promised and committed actions to the community only 216 or 70% had been completed, with 28 having been withdrawn by Council’s Administration without clear explanation (or Councils formal consent) and 63 having not been completed at all.
Yet in the same year there was an increase of 76.77% in expenditure on Council’s Governance and Administration from $31.451 Million in 2019/20 to $55.596 Million in the 2020/21 Year.
Councillor Peter Epov, submitted a formal ‘Question with Notice’ in relation to this issue at the 7 September Council meeting and the response was:
“As such, further analysis will need to be undertaken to provide an appropriately detailed response to questions two and three. Currently, Council finance staff resources are focussed on the preparation of the draft Financial Statements for the Audit Office of NSW. A more detailed response will be provided to a future Ordinary Meeting of Council following analysis of the OLG data once resources are available following the production of the draft financial statements.”
The Council Report did not include a list of which actions had been withdrawn (by the Administration) nor which actions had not been completed, one has to trawl through the entire 133 page attachment to the Report.
Your Council – The State of Local Government in NSW
The NSW Office of Local Government has recently released the 2020/21 “Your Council – The State of Local Government in NSW” profile and performance data which is a comparison of how all Councils throughout NSW are performing. MidCoast Council is listed as having:
The 8th highest “Deficit before Capital Grants” (of $20.931 Million), of all Councils in NSW.
The 10th highest Governance and Administration costs in NSW;( increased by 76.77%, from $31.451 Million in 2019/20 to $55.596 Million in 2020/21 ) with only Newcastle and eight major Sydney Metropolitan Councils having higher Governance and Administration Costs.
The Governance & Administration Expenditure per capita (per property / household) has risen to $588.97 from $335.16 in 2019/20 (with 2018/19 figure being $323.58 per household).
As a comparison in 2014/15 the Greater Taree City Council only spent $10.111 Million on Governance and Administration or $206.50 per household).
2022/23 MCC Budget Backflip
With the 2022/23 MidCoast Council Budget barely several months old at the 28 September Council Meeting the Monthly Budget Variation Report for the month of July (2023), which should have been presented in August, recommended to Council major adjustments within the Capital Works Program that were adopted only a few months earlier. Over 50 significant variations totalling many millions of dollars were proposed by the Administration and subsequently adopted by the elected Council.
The changes included major reductions to the Water and Sewer Capital Works Program.
Cr Peter Epov is one of the few Councillors who consistently submits ‘Questions with Notice’, questions which by law then must be responded to at the next Council Meeting.
At the 24 August Council Meeting Cr Epov asked the Question:
Bullying, Harassment, Inappropriate Relationships and Abuse
“Is there a culture of bullying, harassment, inappropriate relationships and abuse within MidCoast Council, and does the General Manager agree with my proposal to establish a review totally “independent” of all executive staff members, which should be conducted on a confidential (and if necessary anonymous basis) of the workplace culture within MidCoast Council, specifically in relation to alleged bullying, harassment, inappropriate relationships and abuse?”
The Response from the General Manager was:
“There is no evidence of a culture of bullying, harassment, inappropriate relationships and abuse within MidCoast Council nor is the General Manager aware of any such culture. As such, there is no need for an independent review. All staff, across the Local Government sector including MidCoast Council staff have a range of mechanisms to report bullying and/or harassment incidents which include a suite of policies and procedures (including Code of Conduct and Public Interest Disclosures).
In addition, staff can seek union support and third-party agency referrals. All of these options are available to staff on an anonymous basis where required. Staff are encouraged to use these frameworks where appropriate and have been provided with the appropriate awareness training.
Council is committed to providing a safe, flexible and respectful environment for its staff that is free from all forms of discrimination, bullying and harassment and has a suite of policy and procedures to support this.”
This week we have learnt from several sources that Council’s General Manager has written to all Council staff saying:
“Shortly we will be sending out invites for all staff to attend mandatory Sexual Harassment training.
This training will help increase your awareness with 2 online training modules offered – one for staff in non-managerial positions.
You will be automatically enrolled into the module that best suits your position and the training will take no more than 20 minutes.
I encourage staff to set aside time to complete the training as soon as possible.”
The Manning Community News has been frequently approached and informed by past and current employees that there is a toxic culture within the Council, if you have any information you wish to share on a strictly confidential basis, please contact the Editor.
Only One Councillor Votes Against Performance Agreement.
At the 7 September Meeting of MidCoast Council, Confidential Report 17.3 related to a reviewed of the performance of the General Manager and the establishment of a Performance Agreement for the next 12 months.
Cr Peter Epov was the only Councillor present to vote against the General Manager’s Performance Agreement
Moved by Cr J Miller and Seconded Cr D West.
The vote was –
For: – Cr A Tickle, Cr J Miller, Cr C Pontin, Cr P Sandilands, Cr D West, Cr K Smith, Cr D Smith, Cr P Howard
Against: – Cr P Epov
As usual with MidCoast Council, the entire matter was unnecessarily shrouded in secrecy, by the application of a confidentiality provision within the Local Government Act.
It appears when any matter is contentious and or perhaps sensitive or even reputationally damaging to Council it conveniently disappears under the provisions of the Local Government Act.
Or a Councillor may try to put a glowing spin on how good council is in the local press.
We’re all a bit smarter than that, I reckon.
So much for open Government, transparency and ultimately accountability.
Given the state of Council’s finances; the roads and other infrastructure, the habitual failure to deliver capital projects on time and to budget (as demonstrated by the carry-over of nearly $40 million dollars of projects each year, for the past 5 years), it would seem to be of some considerable public interest for the community to be aware of the performance objectives or KPI’s that “our newly elected” Councillors would be setting down for the General Manager for the next 12 months.
It is in the context of ‘accountability’ that our Councillors have to demonstrate that they are intelligently creating the appropriate setting with very clear directives, and implementing a system of checks and balances to ensure that Council performs, and delivers what it has promised and what is required and expected by the community.
We asked Cr Epov why he didn’t vote for the performance agreement.
“As the Mayor has determined this subject is confidential, I can’t publicly discuss any of the details. I did make a very direct and comprehensive statement in the five minutes that was allotted to me on the entire matter.
What I am able to say is that over 11,000 people voted for my group, I was elected to represent the community, to try and bring about change and reform, not to be an apologist nor a cheerleader for the Administration.
After 5 years of being an amalgamated Council one would have hoped to have seen a great deal of progress, efficiency, and improved delivery of services. At least some metrics to demonstrate that all that amalgamation chaos was all worth it. The actual data shows that we are going backwards, Council is spending more and more on Administration, delivering less and will be looking to further reduce services in the future.
Those Councillors who voted for the new Performance Agreement, now own it! The onus is on them to ensure that it is delivered!”
In February Cr Epov proposed a comprehensive Notice of Motion pertaining to the review and performance of the General Manager. That Motion was voted down 7 votes to 4.
We press on, despite the darkening financial clouds on the horizon.
(Compiled from various sources who wish to remain anonymous. If anyone has a complaint about harassment in their workplace please contact Lifeline 13 11 14)