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Local government set for comeback

Monday, 16th June, 2014

By Erica Visser

 Central Darling Shire Council will adopt its budget for the coming year on Friday, just two days before its suspended councillors are reinstated.

Councillors were suspended in December last year and Administrator Greg Wright has since worked to rectify major financial problems.  

Mr Wright produced the Shire’s draft operational plan for 2014/2015 with interim general manager Brian Wilkinson. 

Both will finish in their roles on Friday following a meeting to adopt the plan. 

Councillors will not have a chance to comment on the plan, in a move one councillor described as “questionable.”

But Mr Wilkinson said that it had made sense.

“The issue is that the draft plan has been done through the administrator up until now,” he said.

“Councillors need the opportunity to get their feet on the ground again.”

The council is also in the process of recruiting a new general manager and it is expected his name would be confirmed at Friday’s meeting.

Mr Wilkinson told the BDT that councillors would be briefed on the plan following the meeting.

He said that “three or four” public submissions regarding the proposed plan had been received but these did not close until Wednesday.

Mr Wilkinson said one of these submissions was from Sunset Strip Progress Association member Barry Fowler who had hit out at the council for “ripping out” $50,000 meant for the village.

Mr Wilkinson said that Mr Fowler’s submission would be considered at Friday’s meeting and did not wish to comment further.

When asked why the plan would be adopted two days before councillors were reinstated, Clr Ron Page said that was “a good question.”

“It’ll be all done and dusted by the time we come back in,” he said.

“I’ve read it from front to back and I don’t want to have too much to say at the moment.

“Our hands are tied...it doesn’t look sustainable.”

Mr Wilkinson said that it was “up to the councillors” as to whether they changed the way it operated to ensure sustainability.

“Obviously there are issues that have been brought to our attention during this period and certainly it would be advisable for them to look at how they do things in making sure the budget was followed.”

In a report to council, Mr Wright explained the progress during the past six months which included reducing staff numbers from 67 to 60 via natural attrition and the adoption of the first quarterly review in two years.

“It is not my intention to boast - and I can certainly not accept much of the credit - however the Shire Council is in a much better financial position now than it was in December 2013,” Mr Wright said in the report.

“Perhaps the single biggest indicator is that the cash flow forecast (made in December 2013) for the month of May 2014 showed a negative cash position of $3.1 million. 

“In reality, in May the overdraft was at an average of minus $200,000 and in fact was positive for a few days.”

While Mr Wright noted that this was a “significant turnaround”, he said that surplus budgets would be required for the next few years.

“The real challenge will be to rid the Council of its overdraft dependence and re-establish cash-funded operations, reserves and working capital.”

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