MidCoast budget blunder of, oops, $13 million

While the rest of the country was digesting Scott Morrison’s self-congratulatory Federal Government’s Budget, sparks were flying in Gloucester, as our dear MidCoast Council presented its fiscal budget for the year.

 

This so-called budget had been put up on Council’s website days before but, when Councillors received their 100 pages plus budget papers, only TWO pages had actual financials on it – ie, figures. 

Some smart locals had already picked up the glaring error of an over-estimation of MidCoast Water staff costs; rocketing from an average over the last couple of years of $18 Million to suddenly now over $33 million.

Huh? Wasn’t the whole idea of the new MidCoast Council swallowing Midcoast Water into their embrace supposed to save us money??

Incomplete

So, oh, oops sorry, a small blunder. Two days later, as the Council convened at Gloucester, the mistake had been picked up… including by sharp eyed locals, Councillor Epov, a tipped-off staff member, and the former Mayor Paul Hogan, and was reduced by $13 million.

Former GTCC Mayor Paul Hogan, is appalled.

What I have sighted is a Statement of Revenue Policy including a 2018 -2019 Income Statement and Capital Budget Statement. This information is incomplete. 

Where is the three year document? The frightening thing is the information that is not being provided. Did the Staff prepare this document, or a consultant? The Community / Councillors should be provided with all the information, in other words, a document with all the figures relating to what is mentioned in the Statement of Revenue and Capital Expenditure, not just two pages.”

The big question is, what is this vague, shifty, evasive mess of a budget covering up? Where is the transparency, the thought-through future plans, the directives, the accountability? Where does the buck stop?

More Than A Simple Error

Whilst it can be dismissed by Council as a simple accounting mistake, and a reprinting of corrected papers handed out on the morning of the Council meeting, that is not good enough.

The previous Greater Taree City Council spent at least three months preparing and detailing and scrutinising budgets.

So it makes we ratepayers feel a bit hard done by, and also feel  that something is being glossed over and covered up, when  figures are rubbery, and paperwork so superficial.

Forget the highly sophisticated, accurate and honest council budgets from neighbours Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour. We have the greatest mess of a presentation that is full of pages and pages of pretty pictures, council-speak bull-dust, and TWO pages of what is referred to as the actual budget in figures. This is depressingly illuminating, in that it gives us bad news and no news.

Rates Going Up

The other thrilling news is that, due to then GM Glenn Handford’s Special Rate Variation (SRV), (that was the rate hike that we had to have), our Council rates will again increase this year by a further 5%  (whereas IPART approved a Rate Peg increase of only 2.3% for all other Councils in NSW), and our rates will continue to climb by 5% each year for the next two years. MidCoast Water, now a division of MCC, will increase its rates by 8%, and the cost of doing business with Council will also increase, with charges going up by between 2-3%.

Readers may recall that the SRV was premised on achieving substantial State Government funding for our roads and bridges, yet there is no sign of that $50M State Government Grant, that Mr Handford spruiked up at his travelling roadshow last year, nor any reference to the $50m loan that Council was going to match, to fix our failing roads and bridges infrastructure.

The dust, far from settling since the former GM quit, seems to be rising in a great cloud to screen what’s really going on in the Golden Towers of the MidCoast Council.

Especially now, as council staff, ex staff, and business people are gaily recounting who told them that former GM of MidCoast Council, Glenn Handford, is indeed working for Tea Gardens Developer Dong Fang Lee. There is also much gossip over senior staff marriage breakups and “girlfriends and promotions.”

Some people report seeing Mr Handford “taking meetings” on a park bench outside Council Chambers, and in a popular Friday afternoon watering hole with his buddies, some still on Council.

And, as to the back door exit of Council  . . . there is another significant departure, which is the surprising exit of  Director of Planning and Natural Systems, Lisa Schiff, a powerful long time co-worker with Glenn Handford for many years. Like Jane Ree, Manager Engagement and Communications, (where do they get these titles from?) who suddenly resigned after signing a non disclosure of information document some months back, the powerful Lisa Schiff, a 30-year public servant, and a Director of MidCoast Council, has made a sudden and unexpected departure from her position at Council. No farewell presentation, drinks, or a bye-your-leave.

Initial assumption was that she had gone to work with Handford, her long-time co-hort. But some in the know say ‘no way’. Ms Schiff ( who recently bought a home and, one would assume, wouldn’t easily quit a long-time high-paying job and its perks and privileges,) walked out of Council  with no farewells, having signed a non-disclosure of information document, and has gone to ground.

McWilliams Silenced

At the Gloucester budget council meeting, Councillor Jan McWilliams rose to question this issue, but was gagged by the Mayor, and threatened with a code of conduct charge by Cr. Len Roberts.

However, we feel this is not the last we will hear from the redoubtable Cr. McWilliams.

Nor the last we will hear about the former GM, his cronies in a club… which we’ll call The Pineapple Mob for now, rather than reveal their true identity.

And so we wonder. . . who will be the next to fall under a bus? And we repeat, we need a new shining knight GM to appear on the horizon on a white horse, or, in the immortal words of Hanrahan, “We’ll all be rooned”.

DM

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One Response to MidCoast budget blunder of, oops, $13 million

  1. michael says:

    oh happy days. the biggest dud in the world Lisa Schiff has been turfed out. Just like she was at Narracourte council. Out the door without a single person saying a word she was that disliked. What a useless waste of space. Ron gone. GM gone. Greg ( I dont even have half a brain ) Pevitt gone.
    How Jan ( can someone pass me my zimmer frame and bible ) McWilliams should be next.
    Things are looking up for the region.

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