Most students get their report cards at the end of term, but Byron Council has been given its marks early this year in the form of results from its bi-annual community satisfaction survey.
And it’s fair to say there will more than a few things to discuss come parent-teacher night.
Let’s start with the good news.
A solid 64 per cent of the 400 respondents to the survey were ‘at least somewhat satisfied’ with the overall performance of Council over the past two years.
And 68 per cent of residents who made the effort to personally contact Council over that period said they were ‘at least somewhat satisfied’ with the way their contact was handled.
Unfortunately that’s about as good as it gets.
The overall level of satisfaction with the council fell five per cent from the last survey in 2016, which isn’t great when you consider that that earlier survey covered one of the most tumultuous periods in the council’s recent history.
The new satisfaction rating of 2.76 out of 5 is, in the words of the authors of the survey report, ‘significantly lower than the NSW regional benchmark and the all-of-NSW benchmark’.
While there was an increase in satisfaction in one area of Council’s operations – coastal management – satisfaction fell in eight other areas, including roads, future planning, tourism management and recycling.
No gold star for guessing which aspect of Council’s activities were deemed most important: the region’s roads remain at the front of many locals’ minds.
However, financial management was a somewhat surprising entrant into the top three concerns, with affordable housing close behind, providing yet more evidence that the affordability crisis is really starting to bite.
Deputy mayor Michael Lyon said he believed financial management was at the forefront of people’s minds because of the council’s recent rate increase.
‘Through the special rate variation process the backlog of infrastructure became known,’ Cr Lyon said.
‘People started to question whether our financial management was sound.
‘I believe it is sound, and I think the fact that we introduced the rate variation is actually evidence of that because we were dealing with a financial situation we inherited.’
Councillor Lyon also defended the council’s record on providing basic infrastructure such as roads.
‘As was noted in the report, the type of issues we’re facing in the Byron Shire, things like tourism management and a severe housing affordability crisis, are issues you’re more likely to find in a city council rather than a regional council,’ he said.
‘There is a very specific set of circumstances that have created these issues, but unfortunately we haven’t had the recognition or funding at state or federal level to deal with them.
‘Having said that I think we as councillors, and Council staff, are doing a pretty good job of meeting the needs of residents.’