If you’ve ever been asked what you would like for dinner just as it’s being served, you will understand why some locals are less than happy with the consultation surrounding this year’s Noosa Council budget.
The Noosa community won’t have any influence on what’s served up in the budget that takes effect from 1 July, regardless of the belated ‘consultation’ in the weeks ahead. It’s simply far too late to make any real difference.
Last year’s consultation started at the beginning of March. That’s reasonable because budget processes take at least 6 months to work through. Staff and councillors presented their wish lists months ago. So did the community last year, but not this year.
Hopefully the new CEO has been in place for long enough to discover a fundamental problem with the budget that is being ignored. A problem that keeps getting worse.
Data published by Council shows that over the last 6 years rates & levies have increased 28%, while employee costs have increased 46%. Let that sink in for a moment.
Enterprise bargaining and investment in technology is supposed to increase productivity. There’s no evidence of that happening here.
Adding more staff to an inefficient operation simply creates more inefficiency. If that’s not the problem, then perhaps the soaring staff costs could be explained by new initiatives, because agreed service levels haven’t changed for years.
If new initiatives have been added to the upcoming budget without replacing existing activities, the problem will get worse. Six years ago council employee costs were 44% of rates & levies, now they are over 50%.
If the trend continues, there will be less and less for infrastructure like roads, bridges, community facilities and the like – the essential hard infrastructure in any community. Unless of course there are even larger increases in rates & levies.
Council could join State and Federal Governments on the slippery slope of borrowing more and more. Or even worse, they could capitalise interest so it’s added to the debt and doesn’t need to be paid until later – as well as extra interest of course.
That’s what they did last year with over $3 million in interest. They were allowed to add it to the Council debt instead of actually paying the interest. Another slippery slope.
Some people might have liked to ‘have their say’ about really important issues like this, and no doubt many other issues. But it’s far too late to influence anything of substance. The council ‘champions’ of consultation have been missing in action.
The recent oyster restoration project ‘debate’ in Council saw passionate claims from a number of councillors about the necessity for more community consultation.
One councillor has subsequently stated publicly that “the public legitimacy for the decisions a council makes depends in large part on the extent to which it engages with its community when making decisions”.
Hard to argue against that. But the largest decision Noosa Councillors make every year is adopting a budget that provides for spending of over $100 million.
Genuine consultation would have allowed community input before the ‘wish lists’ of staff and councillors were finalised in the internal Council bargaining process that’s already been held.
Potential new spending initiatives like community housing and more staff will no doubt already be locked into the draft budget. Too late to turn that around now. This meal is prepared and just about cooked, whatever our ratepayers may think about the ingredients.