Noosa Council’s latest budget is big on rate rises, big on staff cost increases, and big on spin. Not so big on giving us an honest, accurate picture of what they’re up to, starting with how much total rates are actually rising.
Instead, many of us outside the Pelican Street bubble see a rudderless Council adrift in a Noosa (and national) economy that’s in very choppy seas. It’s top heavy, growing rapidly and taking on water – and our money – fast.
The Council approved its fourth annual budget recently. It was a self-congratulatory meeting with the cheery atmosphere of a kid’s birthday party.
It didn’t take them long to deal with only 40 community responses to their draft budget. The response report was a mere 6 pages, dropping dramatically from 16 pages last year and 45 pages the year before that.
Is this plunge in community feedback because people now believe it’s pointless having their say in a token ‘consultation’ process that isn’t genuinely responding to legitimate concerns?
What else could it be when the budget meeting agenda started with 6 pages to report community responses and then 340 pages of budget meeting detail? All at the same meeting!
A staffer took 3 minutes to summarise the six page report, a number of Dorothy Dixer questions to staff took 4 minutes, and that dealt with community responses without a single change to the budget.
Common themes from Council’s recent media releases featured again, like what a challenge it was preparing the budget and how hard they worked, and more hyperbole about ‘unprecedented’ trends in inflation, costs and land revaluations.
What was actually unprecedented – but apparently not worth mentioning – was the extraordinary increase in Council revenue over the last 3 years.
Instead we got what is now a familiar spin about Council working hard to manage costs. I nearly choked on my weetbix.
The budget they were approving provides for a 17% increase in employee costs from the previous year. That looks to me like a lack of appropriate management and direction of the organisation.
Council Staff costs climb 47% in four years
It adds to recent years of ‘empire building’ and makes the total increase in employee costs over their four budgets a whopping 47% total increase, compared to total inflation of 18% over the last 4 years.
Just let that figure sink in a bit. Ask yourself what you, as a ratepayer, are seeing for this huge increase in staff costs.
Is this an example of ‘managing costs’ or ‘strong financial management’?
There’s a story doing the rounds that Council has been funding free coffee and cake at selected cafes around Noosa Shire. Maybe that’s part of the Living Well Noosa program that Council claimed recently is ‘supporting our community’. Other rumours have another hard-to-swallow explanation that free coffee is a Council economic development initiative. Either way, is this how they should spend other people’s money when so many are having difficulty with the necessities of life.
Is this the type of ‘initiative’ that requires another 14 permanent staff in this year’s budget?
This was one recent ratepayer comment on Noosa Matters reacting to the so-called ‘back to basics’ budget.
“I might have to come and give a demonstration on how to get by without a 5-5.5% increase in income every year and what getting back to basics actually means. Basics are a toasted sandwich, baked beans on toast, or scrambled eggs for dinner every night. Perhaps I’ll only eat the toasted sandwich every second night this year.”
That’s from one ratepayer who doesn’t fall for the spin about how hard council has worked to keep rates down because people are doing it tough.
So let’s take a minute and look at the actual increase in general rates in this budget. It’s a pretty simple division and percentage calculation.
There it is. 8 per cent. Not the 5.5% pushed out by the Council and friendly media.
The fact is that this budget will collect over 8% extra in general rates compared to last year. As well as waste charges and levies that add at least another $500 to most residential properties.
That’s real money being collected from ratepayers, and continues years of rate collections far above the council ‘headline’ percentages.
Lots of reports, but where’s our kerbside collection?
Meanwhile, many serious issues facing the Noosa community have seen the Council generate numerous Strategies, Plans and Policies but little action. Even suggestions to Council that the annual kerbside collection should be resumed were met with the response that it would be considered after development of a new Waste and Resource Recovery Strategy.
Yet in the next sentence the report advises that $3 million has been provided for a number of new waste initiatives! But no resumption of the kerbside collection costing a few hundred thousand dollars…a great resource recovery strategy until it was abandoned by this Council.
And what could be more important to Noosa’s future than the Destination Management Plan launched with great fanfare long ago? It appears there has not been a single meeting held with Council’s chosen community representatives this year. If there has been, when is a progress report going to surface?
Maybe there’s truth in the story doing the rounds that staff were told some time ago that no controversial issues should be raised prior to the election next March.
This Council is going to be remembered for unprecedented rate rises, unprecedented staff increases, a lack of effective leadership, and ducking the serious issues. And for unprecedented media spin.