Ballina councillor Jeff Johnson, Lennox Head
It is of great concern that Ballina Council does not have as part of its standing governances, processes and procedures a requirement to obtain an Independent Financial Feasibility Assessment (IFFA) before significant funding is allocated to land-development and property-investment projects. This has led to council approving and allocating substantial amounts of capital to commercially non-viable and unprofitable projects that have resulted in financial losses and/or inadequate returns on investment. Council should focus on community infrastructure and services instead of speculative commercial property investments.
Councillors have the responsibility to professionally and prudently manage ratepayers’ funds, which are public monies. This responsibility requires the undertaking of due diligence in respect to the financial viability of projects. While council staff may have qualifications and experience in some of the relevant disciplines, their roles cover a number of areas and consequently their positions are conflicted. They are not in a position to provide independent advice in respect to the financial feasibility of projects on which councillors can rely for capital allocation and investment decisions.
Examples include the failed Wigmore Arcade Carpark Development that cost the council/community up to $1 million (approximately $770,000 in consultant fees alone), and the proposed Wigmore Arcade redevelopment. This later proposal is causing great uncertainty for local businesses, has resulted in an increase in vacancies (loss of income for council), and carries significant costs and risks associated with the proposal. I believe that an IFFA will show that what council’s Commercial Services Unit is proposing is financially unviable.
Given the large community infrastructure backlog, council needs to stop throwing money at commercially unviable ‘investment’ projects and refocus on delivering community infrastructure and services.