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Shire council fears

Saturday, 29th March, 2014

By By Andrew Robertson

Page predicts reduced community services

A suspended Central Darling Shire councillor fears the role of the financially-stricken council may soon be limited to roads, rates and rubbish.

Ron Page said that without a big boost in funding there was no way the government-appointed administrator could turn the council around without slashing activities and services.

The former Broken Hill mayor said it would be a “sad day” if that were happen because towns relied on councils for so much more.

“That would be a sad day for any council to go back to the three Rs,” he said.

But the level of funding received by the CDSC and many other councils no longer came close to matching the extra activities they were required to perform.

“The big problem is our lack of money,” Clr Page told the BDT.

“We have been underfunded for the last 20 to 30 years ... it’s very hard for any council to survive in the outback.

“For (administrator) Gary Wright to say he can fix the problems, he can’t.

“All the outback councils are rated as (having a) very poor financial future, including Broken Hill.”

Clr Page rejected assertions by Mr Wright that councillors and management were responsible for “most, if not all, of the maladies” affecting the Shire council.

In his latest report as administrator, Mr Wright pointed to the lack of a professional general manager for almost the last two years and a councillor cohort “overly concerned with day to day operational matters and with limited strategic focus or management competency”.

But Clr Page said if anyone was to blame for the unsustainable state of the Central Darling Shire and other councils, it was Local Government Minister Don Page.

“I’m absolutely disgusted that we have a minister that hasn’t got the backbone to face up to the problem.

“He hasn’t got a solution to the problems facing the outback.”

Mr Wright, meanwhile, has been given more time by the government to try and turn the council’s finances around.

Minister Don Page has agreed to extend the council’s suspension period by a further three months, on Mr Wright’s recommendation.  

Mr Wright said the recent appointment of an interim general manager, Brian Wilkinson, would allow him to focus on the policy and strategic framework.

Work to recruit a permanent general manager by June this year was also a high priority, he said.

In his report Mr Wright has flagged the need for some tough decisions regarding the shire council’s services.

The implementation of a key accounting report would help determine the “specific actions” needed to bring the council’s finances to a more sustainable state, he said.  

“Understanding the true costs and revenues for the Council’s activities will allow for more informed decisions about the pricing of services and, indeed, the continuation or cessation of services and facilities.”

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