When a council advertises that it will be seeking responses from the community in relation to their satisfaction with particular aspects that the council spends money on, roads for example, respondents to the survey should be aware that their responses will almost inevitably be used to support an application to IPART for a special rate variation.
For example, council may state that they spend X dollars on a particular type of road, unsealed rural, sealed rural, sealed urban road etcetera. Council then report that following an extensive survey of the condition of the roads, that they intend to spend more than X dollars on maintenance of the roads to improve their condition. Many respondents are then lured into agreeing with council’s proposition to spend more, and because of this council will thus improve the roads. (This could be construed as blackmail. If you don’t agree to us having more money from you, then the roads will be bad.)
It is usually very difficult to get information in any detail on the way in which the council spend their existing budgets, or the increased budgets that they are seeking to raise through a special rate variation. Council will report, in a regular report, where maintenance activities have occurred, are occurring, and will occur. No detail is provided, and when asked for, it is either unable to be provided, or the response is vague and unenlightening. It would be of benefit to councillors, and the public to know in some detail, what the original budget, scope of works, and time frame was for each task/project/activity, or whatever council want to call the bit of work being reported on, and what has been spent, how much of the scope of work has been completed, and how progress is going against the original program. As well, it would be of benefit to know whether the works have resulted in a need for an increase to the future maintenance budget. One council I knew of spent 9 times as much maintaining rural sealed roads per kilometre, than unsealed rural roads, and kept going with projects to seal rural unsealed roads, thus increasing the maintenance budget every year The problem with agreeing to a council proposition to spend more money is that we don’t really know how the Council spends that money. Does it spend efficiently? Are the management practices and culture of the council in relation to the way in which they plan, and implement maintenance activities the best that could be expected? (or worse than could be expected.)
Does council presently spend more, or less than other councils with worse environmental factors on maintaining roads? Does the council spend, and perhaps intend to spend maintenance money on work that is not really maintenance, but new works, expanding the size of existing infrastructure, such as carparks, because someone on staff thinks it is a good idea? Or perhaps planting trees in perfectly good sealed road pavement thus causing a traffic hazard? Or perhaps doing work which is not needed and thus increasing the ongoing maintenance budget requirements (probably requiring a later request for a special rate variation, in addition to the present one)?