16 May 2023

Eurobodalla Council faces $8 million deficit despite tightening its belt under new GM

| Katrina Condie
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Man and woman standing

General Manager Warwick Winn and finance director Stephanie Speedy will present the council’s financial challenges and the steps to long-term financial sustainability to interested residents next week. Photo: ESC.

Led by a new general manager, Eurobodalla Shire Council has tightened its belt. However, its draft 2023-24 Operational Plan is expected to record a “serious” $8 million deficit.

Warwick Winn, who immediately ordered a “financial health check” of the organisation when he took up the top job in November, said councillors and staff had been working to address the financial challenges.

“We have managed to reduce the deficit from $13 million to $8 million by reprioritising and staging next year’s work plan and by using grant funds to support already programmed works and services,” Mr Winn said.

“Additionally, a finance strategy will be prepared later this year that will see us living within our means to achieve long-term financial sustainability.”

Mr Winn said the draft plan represented a financial “year zero” for the council.

“Increases in rates, fees and charges remain moderate for 2023-24, with general rates going up by 4.3 per cent in line with IPART’s rate-pegging figure,” he explained.

“Other increases – listed in the draft 2023-24 revenue policy – include environmental levies and typical waste-collection charges by 4.3 per cent, water charges by 4.17 per cent for access and 2.56 per cent for usage, and sewer charges by 4.85 per cent for access and 4.88 per cent for usage.”

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Some new additions to the work plan this year include making the rapid response team a permanent arrangement and the start of a program of upgrades and improvements to the shire’s 67 public toilets.

“We will be developing and introducing free tip vouchers for residents who live in the shire’s more remote areas where kerbside collection is not available,” Mr Winn said.

“And in September, residents will be able to drop off their green waste free of charge at our tips to coincide with the Rural Fire Service annual ‘Get Ready’ weekend.”

A permanent online community engagement platform will be introduced to complement the in-person opportunities.

Mr Winn said housing affordability, diversity and supply would remain a focus, with a masterplan for Batemans Bay set to create the potential for increased building heights, getting infill development underway, and work to start on planning the infrastructure needed to bring up to 1000 new housing lots to the market in South Moruya.

The 2023-24 work plan will also see the council wrap up an unprecedented program of grant-funded and disaster recovery work.

“Going forward, we will be smarter about the grants we chase,” Mr Winn said.

“They should pay for work already on the books, not add more work on top. If we can do that, we will start living within our means and hopefully avoid service reductions or having to pursue special rates variations.”

Eurobodalla Mayor Mathew Hatcher said councillors had thrown their support behind the general manager’s “finance-led, delivery focus approach to the business of council” and were proud to support a “hefty ‘to-do’ list”.

However, like most councils throughout the nation, he said Eurobodalla Council had financial challenges.

“Cost-of-living pressures affect local government just as they do our own households. It is more expensive to build things, to maintain them, and to run the services our community expects,” Cr Hatcher said.

He explained that the council would need to have “brave and open conversations with residents, explaining why work they’d like to see right away will need to wait while other priorities are finished”.

“With discipline and sound management, this council can set up future councils and the community for a better financial future,” he added.

Eurobodalla residents will have an opportunity to provide feedback on the council’s work plan for next financial year at three public briefings next week.

Briefings will be held at the Batemans Bay Library on Monday (22 May) from 4:30 pm to 6 pm, Narooma Library on Wednesday (24 May) from 4:30 pm to 6 pm and Moruya Library on Thursday (25 May) from 4:30 pm to 6 pm. Bookings through the council’s website are essential.

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At the briefings, Mr Winn and Director of Finance Stephanie Speedy will explain the council’s current financial challenges and service delivery now and into the future.

“The draft 2023-24 Operational Plan lists 212 actions across 31 council service areas. We are continuing our strong record of service and infrastructure delivery,” Mr Winn said.

“These community briefings are an opportunity for residents to learn more about our challenges.”

The draft 2023-24 Operational Plan, along with the draft 2023-24 Fees and Charges and draft 2023-33 Long-Term Financial Plan, is on public exhibition until Tuesday, 6 June.

Following the plans’ public exhibition, councillors will be presented with a report of community submissions alongside the finalised 2023-24 Operational Plan, 2023-24 Fees and Charges, and the 2023-33 Long-Term Financial Plan for consideration and adoption.

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cannedbeeria9:34 pm 19 May 23

Us ratepayers were told by Mayor Hatcher that the council could “live within it’s means” so rate rises would not be necessary. So much for that. Sounds very much like the words of the last council. Oh, you say they are only raising rates as suggested (allowed?) by Ipart, around 4.3%. But, most of us ratepayers have seen huge increases in the UCV of our blocks. So the actual dollar amounts of (general) rates will increase substantially. In 2016 my block was worth less than $300,000. Now it is supposed to be worth almost $700,000! And as general rates are levied on the value of your land, rates will be in line with that increase in value.

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