Last Night I and a number of staff members attended the extraordinary meeting to discuss the budget and where to from now. My understanding prior to the meeting was that there needed to be some real savings made to cover the Asbestos mess we’ve found ourselves in. We as in poor management of a big issue potentially meaning we the ratepayers would have to foot the bill and a big big bill it is. As you’ve no doubt heard in the press poor management of an asbestos find has us having to clean up sites all over the LGA and if any of you have been listening over the last few years, Asbestos clean up is not cheap, it requires particular and specific remedies that are expensive. While I’m unclear as to the actual number of sites across the LGA I have gleaned from conversations that there are quite a few, certainly more than a dozen and potentially significantly more. That said we had a big issue at the western depot that I believe has been cleaned up at a cost of around 4million, maybe a little less. Doing the math makes me acutely aware that this will be an ongoing and an expensive exercise. To that end I spent a good part of the weekend going through the draft budget that had been presented at the previous council meeting. I did have the list of remedies that Cllr Ristevski had put forward however they merely tinkered around the edges of what was really needed.
As you know each year I prepare a budget submission, many if not all are posted here, however as this matter was of import I chose to address the council with the potential $7million dollars of savings I found. Sadly what I also found was that yet again we are not being allowed to see what is really happening with our council rates and the level of information being provided is again of sub standard. Below I will post the copy of the presentation I made. I went a little off track at one point as Cllr Hadchiti, as he is well known to do to my presentations, interrupted when he failed to listen to the detail and took the details I was discussing personally for the Mayor. Please note the only person I mention by name is Cllr Ristevski as my comments were directed at the role of the Mayor especially in light of the upcoming election in September.
“Good evening councillors staff and residents, my name is Signe Westerberg and I’d like to speak with you about the proposed budget as a resident and ratepayer.
Firstly, I would like to point out that we can immediately save $2.5m by postponing, better still canning the proposed two waying of Northumberland and George Streets, not only is it a bad idea, but it is by no means urgent and our budget crisis is.
We could further save $600,000 not employing consultants to discuss the Bathurst street extension, it too is not urgent and can wait indefinitely.
There is another $600,000 on consultants and investigations that can be postponed immediately on the Georges River Bridge and pedestrian overpass, while a nice Idea we cannot afford it.
Cllr Ristevski’s ideas tinker around the edges, mostly I feel to annoy but in reality this budget does exactly what I have complained about for the last 8 or so years, it provides little to no detail. There is an item under expenses on page 1033 of the previous document that lists $13,398,000 on OTHER. What the heck is other? By the way, that is NOT ACCEPTABLE. Let’s assume it’s the small stuff like the Mayor taking someone to lunch, maybe he could consider buying a $50 bottle of wine instead of an $80 one. (This is where Cllr Hadchiti took exception, the Mayor being Muslim doesn’t’ drink and I knowing that chose wine to disassociate my comments from him, although that was clearly missed by Cllr Hadchiti who has on numerous occasions interrupted, up to 8 times in past presentations) Of this 13million I expect approx. 20% is assigned to contingencies. We can reduce that by 10% and we save another 1.34 million dollars.
Two lines above that the item is: Consultants it lists $2.430 Million so let’s cut that by half another saving of $1.2 million dollars. $525,000 on Gateway fencing at Warwick farm, $100,000 on the Lighthorse park master plan, although much of this has been done it can wait until we can afford it.
We’re already closing in on $7million dollars in savings and all without one person losing their job. (6,938,000)
You can still reduce items like the Night markets to two a year, one in autumn and another in Spring until they become as was always intended self-sustaining, however if we get every department to reduce its spending by 10% we will reasonably cover what I believe is a true underestimate of the real deficit in relation to the Asbestos issue. Better still when a Mayor is elected insist they keep the car that is offered not a car of their choice. Savings of 20-30,000 here and there will add a lot to our bottom line and as I said we can keep all the staff we have as we are hugely understaffed in some areas.
This budget has a number of ambiguities and I may seek an appointment with the CFO to clarify them however this is just the start. There are efficiencies, there are savings and if you could manage to keep a CEO you chose maybe we could have saved another $1million or so we’ve paid out in termination packages
Please know some of us are watching, we aren’t stupid, we can read numbers and this presentation of the budget is in so many ways lacking and that is just not acceptable.
The outcome last night from what I could gather from Cllr Harle’s extensive list of questions was that an interim budget would be prepared until what looked like about 4 pages of Questions from Cllr Harle and his advisory group (whomever they may be, He mentioned it included a solicitor so one might gather this included former Cllr Napolitano, [much of the wording was very much like hers] sadly this gives way to his independence when he consults with LCIT, it also renders the question of confidentiality but that’s not an issue for now). What I don’t get is why, all those questions could and perhaps should have been answered long ago, long before this budget proposal was put forward.
Why are we not simply calling for ALL departments of council to find a 10% saving across all budgets a remedy that should include many of the items I put forward above and all without the cost of one employee’s job. We have a budget of 200 million odd dollars, a 10% saving across the board might be a pain in the butt but it is completely doable and it shouldn’t be up to residents like me to have to point out those savings.
Alas that is why I read the budget and comment every year. One staff member approached me last night about one submission I made in the early days of my participation and in her opinion how ludicrous some of my suggestions were, I do recall and advised Hiba that at the time in my naivety I was listening to the then CFO Portelli and I still stand by the comment I made that as a council the entirety of the ratepayers should not have to pay for child care for what I thought at the time was 20 families. As much as I support child care the $425,000 shortfall turned out to be for only about 8 families and council has made significant changes over time to produce a first class childcare service that doesn’t have any where near the deficit it ran in those early days. I’ll have to look up what I said about Libraries but it’s nice to know staff are ‘coming across” documents like my submission when they can’t find the original DA that they entered into with Westfields and one that would cause significantly more ripples across the community than my one naive offering.
I cannot say it clearly enough, when the council staff present a budget to the community, we should be able to clearly see where our rates are going, In fairness there is quite a bit of detail when it comes to roads, footpaths etc etc and from what I could see there is still a bit of room for improvement or detail but on the whole a resident can see if their suburb can expect some work. However the rest of the document is severely lacking and while there were two speakers who spoke in support of the small items Cllr Ristevski pointed out, it would have been nice if they had actually understood the word transparency as the document presented was sincerely not transparent.
There will be more on this over the coming days I’m assured, I don’t know what the CFO plans to put forward in the way of an interim budget but I can say while there was a lot of questioning from the two other speakers as to who did and didn’t attend the briefings, it seems none of those attendees really took a lot of notice of the detail being presented to the community as many of my revelations seemed to slip by them completely.
Of course there will be differing views, but budgets are math, math is the one reliable, it either adds up or it doesn’t and we as a community deserve to know exactly what our rates are being spent on. Calling for the interim CEO to get a $50,000 pay cut is tinkering around the edges and while he might be amenable to that, we need to be looking at much bigger numbers if we are to come out of this asbestos matter without going broke. The one thing I did agree with Cllr Hadchiti about was that in a couple of months we’d be heading to the polls to elect a new council and that new council should not be left to bear the financial burden of any mismanagement of the present one.
Lastly, the only other item on the agenda (except the confidentiality one) was that of Cllr Stanley’s resignation as councillor pending her campaigning for the Federal Seat of Werriwa and the questions it raised as to whether the Mayor would have to resign if he decides to be the Liberal candidate for Werriwa also. As the Greens candidate for the same seat it does pay rise to the question of Council only being a stepping stone to greater things however I do acknowledge that Cllr Stanley has been a diligent if not relatively quiet representative of the community. It would normally be here I would wish her well in her future endeavours however as I am campaigning against her I would rather she was not so successful and that the community elect me into the seat of Werriwa so both old parties would stop taking us for granted and we would have a louder voice in parliament.
More as it comes to hand… until then like always if you disagree just let me know, I’m happy to post your comments here so the people of Liverpool really know what is happening in their fair city.