THE MAIN ELECTION ISSUE

The key election issue for all voters at the 2021 MCC election on December 4 unquestionably has to be the management and oversight of Council’s finances.

In circumstances where roads are in a very poor state, where services are barely up to scratch, fees and rates are continually going up, where there are continual misadventures by the Council, it becomes obvious that the buck has to stop with the elected Councillors who oversee and permit the continual indiscretions and blunders.

From listening to the broadcasts of our Council Meetings over the past four years (and cringing when watching on Zoom)  it has become quite obvious that many of our Councillors appear to have either a very limited understanding of financial management or meekly accept what is served up by the Administration.

We as the residents and voters of this beautiful region have two quite simple options: we either continue to accept more of the same by re-electing the same ‘old’ people (and nothing will change) OR we scrutinise thoroughly and conscientiously the performance of the existing Councillors, and particularly in the area of financial management. 

It is only through sound financial management and solid administration without the consistent and frequent debacles that we have seen over the past four years, that we will see change and improvement to, and the delivery of, all those services that our community so desperately needs. 

We have to be more vigilant in scrutinising  all the wannabe councillor candidates (and the many who will be added to pad out group tickets at the election) – most of whom won’t really stand a chance of being elected but will be added to help the lead candidate get elected. Historically, there are only a few group tickets that do get multiple candidates elected.  

It’s not good enough, particularly in this year’s Council election, just to vote for a “good bloke” or a popular or long serving councillor or a rank inexperienced political party apparatchik.  We need people who are adept at managing a Council with a $280 million dollar budget and overseeing canny and crafty executives.

People who have established a strong community background, who will be accountable, who have demonstrated that they are capable of, and are prepared if necessary, to stand up to the Administration and fight for the community.

Election Delay

The postponement of the Council Elections from 4 September to 4 December should give residents and voters an opportunity over the next few months to see the serious state of our Council’s financial position and perhaps a few more sins may be exposed along the way.

Council’s ‘Draft Financial Statements 2020/21

One has to seriously question why the Administration, endorsed by a majority of the existing Councillors, (with the exception of Cr Peter Epov and Cr Kathryn Bell) stepped away from the time honoured practice and the transparency measure, and resolved not to publish in a Council Report, Council’s ‘Draft’ Financial Statements for the 2020/21 year. 

Perhaps it had something to do with the numerous errors that we have seen over the past three years in Council’s ‘Draft’ Financial Statements, or is it that certain people don’t wish to reveal the real situation of Council’s finances too early, before the Election? 

The majority of our Councillors voted to send those ‘Draft’ Financial Statements to the NSW Audit Office without actually even seeing them first.

Frustrated and angry Councillor Peter Epov commented, 

“It’s really disappointing that as a Councillor, and a community representative, I didn’t get the opportunity to review the 2020/21 ‘Draft’ Financial Statements, before they were sent off to the NSW Auditor General. 

In past years, the ‘Draft’ Statements were always published in a Council Report for all to see. This year only certain Councillors were granted the opportunity to see those statements, I wasn’t one of those, perhaps because I ask too many questions about the state of Council’s finances.”

MCC 2021/22 Budget.

The recent “2021/22 Monthly Budget Variation Report – August 2021” has confirmed that Council is heading for a budget deficit of over $12 Million (originally listed as $12,507,981 now down to $12,344,949). 

After three months into the Financial Year it appears there is no plan, and Council has yet to reveal how it intends to mitigate that loss, and there is no indication nor any apparent concern from the majority of our elected Councillors.

Ultimately, there will be a sting to this deficit which will inevitably be passed on to we residents and ratepayers, but perhaps we may not feel this sting until after the 4 December election?

Let’s not forget that Council’s Quarterly Budget Review Statement in December 2020 projected a deficit of $32.371 Million from Council’s General Fund Operations for the year.

2020-2021 Budget Items Revoted /Carried Forward into 2021/2022.

The recent Report to Council’s Meeting of 22 September has indicated that Council failed to complete $53,205,167 worth of Budgeted Projects in the 2020/21 Financial Year. This represents 20.3% of the original Council Budget of $261.7 million.

The Council Report does play down these figures by claiming  that $4,213,338 were ‘Revotes’ and the balance of $48,991,829 were ‘Carry Forwards’, which is all semantics because ultimately it all still amounts to a failure to complete projects on time within the budgeted period.

Council’s History on Capital Works can be summed up in the table which was published in our May Edition by Cr Peter Epov in his article “Why I opposed the Budget”.

The recent confirmation that Council has not completed $53 million in budgeted projects appears to re-affirm many of Councillor Epov’s concerns.

Review of the 2020/21 Delivery Program and an Operational Plan (DPOP).

At the end of each Financial Year Council is required to conduct and publish a review of the Delivery Program and Operational Plan for that year. The DPOP is a document which lists many of the activities and projects Council promised to undertake for the Community in that year.

Strangely this review is undertaken by the Administration (upon itself) and not by the Councillors nor by an independent body. 

The 2020/21 review has revealed that Council only completed 76.5% of the programmed activities and projects.

The Report shows that 22.5% were delayed and 1% withdrawn.

The obvious question many locals are asking is “would this situation occur in a business or commercial setting where only 76.5% of the programmed activities were completed but the Budget of $261.7 million was expended”?

Whilst Covid will be rolled out as an excuse, let’s remember the previous year’s excuses for program delays; the drought, the bushfires, then the floods, yet somehow amongst all this Council managed to relocate to the Masters Building in record time and with great fanfare and all the (costly) trimmings.

YearCapital Works ProgramRevoted into next year: or not completed at the end of the  Financial Year
2017/18$58.66 Million$49.20 Million
2018/19$56 Million$46.38 Million
2019/20$100 Million$30.515 Million
2020/21$80 MillionOnly $29 Million was expended to the December  QBRS suggesting further re-votes.
2021/22$102 Million

Council Conduct

And while the flow of expenditure is major, can we also look at how councillors conduct themselves. The grandstanding from the pulpit by some where the mayor never interrupts the flow of drivel, the insults and incorrect veiled references to this newspaper by several councillors, the behaviour of the Mayor and his flagrant bias and negativity towards Councillors Epov and Bell, the scarily ignorant comments and questions from seemingly barely literate individuals, is cold comfort to those of us watching and listening to our Council. 

It is also alienating and unhelpful for the General Manager to ban this newspaper from all council premises and forbid staff to bring a copy of the paper near council property.

Hence this paper cannot cover stories about what might be happening  at the Entertainment Centre, Art Gallery, the Information Centre, our libraries and other places supported by council. When we pointed out that banning this paper from libraries was a form of censorship and suppression of public information, one copy is now allowed in libraries . . . chained in a back room in some cases it would seem. We used to have hundreds of copies on the front desk of libraries free for visitors to take away.

We are also told of certain familiar faces dumping and removing copies of this paper from some public outlets.

With serious threats and false allegations made against The Manning Community News we can’t help wondering what might Council be afraid of, or covering up?  

All of which may explain why the community feels ostracised, ignored and on occasion when face to face, with some council staff, we are treated with rude arrogance. 

Remember come December 4, Choose Wisely.

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