3 June 2024

Former local government chief running for Goulburn Council

| John Thistleton
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Adrian Beresford-Wiley is running for Goulburn Mulwaree Council on a platform focussed on competence, stronger governance, better consultation and a vision for the city.

Adrian Beresford-Wylie is running for Goulburn Mulwaree Council on a platform focussed on competence, stronger governance, better consultation and a vision for the city. Photo: John Thistleton.

A former Australian local government chief executive for 15 years says Goulburn deserves a better council.

Adrian Beresford-Wylie sets out his reasons in two submissions, the first one to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal rejecting Goulburn Mulwaree Council’s case for a 51.2 per cent rate increase, the second one critical of the council’s 2024-25 operational plan which he found repeated much of the previous year’s operational plan.

Announcing his candidacy for the September local government election, and having reviewed council’s financial management, Mr Beresford-Wylie says he cannot imagine any other level of government which would think a 51.2 per cent rate increase over three years was appropriate.

Helping gather signatures for a petition opposing the rates hike, he met many ratepayers who signed it, but were too busy either running their businesses or raising families, to stand for the council.

“Having retired and having lived in Goulburn for a number of years and having a house here for 12 years, I feel part of the community,” he said. “I have the skills and abilities I think to make a contribution to the council and I don’t have an excuse not to stand up,” he said.

READ ALSO Ratepayers say 50 per cent rates hike crazy, outrageous

In the 20 years he was involved in local government, looking at councils all over the country, he has found those that listen to their community do best.

“I think you need to be responsive, you need to be engaged directly with your community on a constant basis,” he said.

He questions why ratepayers are not informed with regular newsletters on what the council is doing and what challenges it faces. He says two-way communication is needed.

When working at a community-based level of government, where councillors focussed on the nitty-gritty, day-to-day-things that concern people, rather than national issues, councils performed at their best, he said.

“Our council has $1.65 billion worth of assets; it’s a comprehensive, and complex business, and while we have 300 staff to do that, we actually need councillors who are equipped to deal with the issues that are going to come forward for decision,” he said.

Responding to the 2024-25 operational plan, and the need for budget savings, Mr Beresford-Wylie suggested:

  • Employee expenses – reviewing any long-standing vacancies which have been difficult to fill (e.g. more than six months vacant). These vacant positions could be abolished because the positions are demonstrably not needed.
  • IT expenses – about $500,000 is set aside annually for replacement of computers, printers, etc. Council could review its policies and potentially reduce the frequency of replacement without impacting service standards.
  • Fleet vehicle replacement – similarly, council could review policy and reduce the frequency with which both heavy and light vehicles are renewed.
  • Rescheduling and reprioritising work – council should rigorously review its current program of work to identify opportunities to reschedule work to help reduce budgetary pressure.

He said councillors should provide leadership, not be followers and not rubber stamp whatever comes up from the council staff.

“They are there to ask questions, to seek advice, to provide guidance to the staff,” he said.

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In his submission opposing the proposed rates hike, Mr Beresford-Wylie noted the council’s 2022/23 financial statements revealed a sudden decline in its financial position, from an operating surplus of $9.4 million in 2021/22 to an operating loss of $3.8 million in 2022/23.

“This is attributable to three main issues, none of which was appropriately budgeted for and all of which point strongly to a council not managing its resources responsibly,” he said.

  • A substantial net loss from asset sales of $5.65 million which council attributes to an overestimate in the book value of assets;
  • An unbudgeted overspend of $3 million (12 per cent) in employee costs; and
  • An unbudgeted and dramatic increase in depreciation of $6.302 million above budget apparently due to revaluation of council assets. The sudden rise seemed inconsistent with a fair value approach.

Mr Beresford-Wylie says he lives in a beautiful heritage area of Goulburn. “The central area is a great colonial city, one of the great cities in NSW and probably Australia in terms of its built heritage.” But the city is not making the most of this heritage.

“Council can engage with community members who have knowledge and passion about heritage,” he said. “We don’t have a heritage committee that advises our council or that our council consults to the extent that would be appropriate. Wingecaribee has one, Wollondilly has one, even Queanbeyan-Palerang. We don’t and I think that is something that’s missing.”

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