The mounting costs of a Council binge

What will be the long-term hangover from Noosa Council’s escalating binge?

Regular readers of Noosa Matters will already know that a lack of leadership in our Council is resulting in more poor decisions, more staff, more rate increases, but not in more services.

We have seen around 40% of ratepayers cop average rate increases of over 10% each year for the last two years.

During the same two years, the budget allocation for staff costs has ballooned from $35 million to $42 million, a massive 20% increase. 

A large part of that was due to many ‘temporary’ project positions being extended, and many of them have now been made permanent.

Last month’s changes added another 21 permanent staff, making 41 over the last 18 months. That compares to 40 extra permanent staff over the previous 5 years.

It seems that Noosa Council has caught the virus prevalent in Brisbane and Canberra that the solution to every challenge is to increase the number of public servants. And if at first that doesn’t work, just keep doubling down.

The spin at the Council meeting and from the Pelican Street Propaganda Section includes statements like these.

We have an obligation to meet our IR requirements and give our casual staff certainty.

There is no cost to the budget bottom line as these funds are already budgeted for.

Many of these temporary positions have been extended more than once.

As reported previously in Noosa Matters, the Council had doubled the long term ‘temporary’ positions in the previous 2 years by extending 15 of them and adding another 14 at the June budget meeting.  Now 21 of the ‘temporary’ positions have been made permanent.

If there is indeed a legal IR obligation, why is Council continuing to extend ‘temporary’ staff who were appointed for a particular project? And why did Council agree at the same meeting to add another two long term ‘temporary’ project positions if there is an IR problem?

And why won’t there be a cost to this year’s budget bottom line? Because the budget allocation for staff costs was increased by $4 million at the June budget to pay for a full year of these and other ‘temporary’ staff. 

But there will certainly now be a cost to every future budget.

I wonder why the spin doesn’t include specific reasons why so many more staff are required by this Council than in the recent past. What are residents getting for these rate hikes that they didn’t get before?

Why not return the annual household bulk waste service that was cancelled for ‘Covid’ reasons instead of adding more staff to produce more reviews, policies, plans, strategies and ‘consultations’.

Anyone who watched the Committee meeting where this issue was ‘debated’ would have been disgusted by the lack of relevant questions from elected members about the proposed changes. There was no serious debate about such an important issue for the future.

Here are a couple of examples of what’s happening from the agenda papers.

In February 2017, Council appointed a Project Coordinator for Climate Change Action for 2 years. The purpose was “To develop the Noosa Council Hazard Adaptation Strategy”. 

The ‘temporary’ position was then extended six times, the last until 30/06/2023. Finally Council at their October meeting converted it to permanent full time. So the 2 year strategy couldn’t be completed in 2 years, or even 6 years? Or it’s going to take forever to develop the strategy?  

The second example is a ‘temporary’ position that has been mentioned in a previous Noosa Matters story. The temporary full time 2 year position of Project Manager – Transport Innovation had been extended a number of times from 2018. The last extension was to 2025.

The position has now been renamed Project Manager – Special Projects, and has been converted to a permanent position. Is that because Council has given up on delivering the innovation promised in their 10 year Transport Strategy? They might as well, we’ve seen nothing innovative in the five years since it was adopted. 

But why should this ‘special projects’ position now be funded by the Transport Levy as revealed in the staff report? If the levy is not being used to deliver the Transport Strategy, the levy should be scrapped. Why aren’t elected members asking questions like this?

None of the above comments is directed at individual employees. They must do as they are directed, and it can be impossible to perform if poor Council decisions and a lack of leadership combine to create organisational dysfunction.

For many in Noosa the cost of this binge is already in rate notices. But the longer term costs of a Council that’s running off the rails will be with us for many years. 


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