The Richmond Valley Council (RVC) is preparing ratepayers for a tough budget while hoping it will still receive its requested above-cap rate hike.
Mayor Ernie Bennett said council planned to deliver a $339,000 working funds surplus in the 2014/15 budget even if it had to stay within the budget cap.
But, he admits, it won’t come without some pain.
GM John Walker added that austere measures would be required to offset increases in ‘non-controllable costs’, such as salaries, and the absence of any significant new income items.
GM’s salary hike
One of the ‘non-controllable’ costs is Mr Walker’s own salary of $240,000 for the next financial year, which was approved by Richmond Valley Council last night.
Richmond Valley councillors approved unanimously the $10,400 increase in Mr Walker’s pay packet at last night’s meeting of Council.
The increase included a 2.5 per cent award increase plus bonus for performance based on undisclosed key performance indicators (KPIs) set by and assessed by councillors.
The KPIs are not available for public scrutiny.
Dr Richard Gates from the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee told Echonetdaily there was ‘very little discussion about the proposed increase by councillors’ before the unanimous vote was taken bringing the GM’s salary package to $240,000.
‘Mr Walker declared an interest in the item regarding his salary increase at the beginning of the council meeting but did not leave the chamber while the recommendation was being discussed and the vote taken on the proposed increase,’ Dr Gates said.
During public access Dr Gates asked Council to withdraw its application to IPART for a 42 per cent rate increase over the next five years because of the new financial burden to be placed on ratepayers by the federal budget on top of the council increase.
He said that it represented a ‘double whammy which ratepayers could ill-afford’.
Roads rates & rubbish
‘We can sustain surplus budgets such as this one if we seriously review what we do across our organisation,’ Mr Walker said.
Mayor Bennett said the council was looking to find savings through ‘alternate ways to provide services’ by moving ‘to a different model that achieves a saving but not at the expense of services to the community’.
He did not expand on how this alternative model might work but said that measure would include not indexing funding to Council programs in line with the CPI.
In line with the old adage ‘road, rates and rubbish’, more than half the council’s $52.38 million budget will be channelled into roads, water reticulation and sewerage system improvements.
RVC will spend more than $2 million on water and $1.5 million on sewerage in the coming financial year.
It is also punting on some generosity from the state government on roads to make up for the harsh cuts imposed by the feds last week.
Mr Walker said while the recent federal budget included a freeze on indexation increases of federal assistance grants over the next three years, Council was confident a boost to Roads to Recovery funds and a new bridges program would alleviate any shortfall.
Mayor Bennett sounded a sombre note with relation to RVC’s application for a special rate variation from IPART.
‘If Council is not successful in its application for the special rate variation, or has a variation approved at a decreased level than in the application, Council will have to meet to further discuss its pathway forward,’ Mayor Bennett said.
‘Any decrease in the requested rate will hinder Council’s goal of being financially sustainable in the medium term and will limit what commitments within the Community Strategic Plan can be delivered.’