Doing a better job of managing a shoe-string budget

By KIERAN FINNANE

 

MacDonnell Shire has already started work on responding to the recently released Review of Councils’ Financial Sustainability.

A financial audit committee has been established, says CEO Diane Hood (pictured left), to sort out the weaknesses in the council’s financial management. The committee is meeting monthly, looking at how their income and expenditure statements are stacking up against the budget, and at their cash flow position.

If a service has been started, yet the grant funding for it has not been received, council can respond in a timely fashion, ie remind the funding body that it needs to pay up!

Ms Hood says two things in particular have contributed to the inconsistencies in council’s financial records pointed out by the review. One is that the shires are only four years old and the “clean-up” of the transfer of assets from the old community councils has still not been finalised. (Little wonder, perhaps, when the transfer, according to the review, revealed that many of the assets “were either non-existent or could not be located, in poor condition or not fit for use or the MSC did not believe they had ownership or control over the assets”. An identical situation is described for Central Desert Shire.)

Another, says Ms Hood, is that council was not doing a good job in allocating costs to the specific service delivered. Doing this properly allows managers to see that one service is not “cross-subsidising” another, to set priorities and to be sure they are not over-spending.

The review was looking at records to June 2011. Ms Hood, who started with council a little over a year ago, initially as Corporate Services Director with responsibility for financial management among others, says council has been doing a better job since and has seen the benefits:

“This allowed us to see, for example, that our provision of an aged care service at Docker River was not sustainable. We’ve since terminated our involvement with that service and it’s been taken over by a more expert health care provider.”

She says the council’s financial history is trending in the right direction: three years ago it reported a $3.5m loss; last year this was reduced to $1.8m.

“This year we hope to break even. I’ll be very pleased about that.”

Ms Hood says council is also being “more sensible” about its assets, clustering big ticket items around the shire in a hub and spoke model.

She can’t see that the shire’s heavy dependence on grant funding will go away: “We haven’t got the capacity to grow our rates base. Rates currently contribute 1.3% of council’s revenue.

“But we can do better with some of our fees and charges. For instance, we now have a more realistic scale of charges for waste disposal.

“We can also do more to maximise our grant funding. We’ve identified more grants that we can apply for this year.”

The biggest concern council has – as with local government across the nation – is paying for the replacement of ageing infrastructure.

“This is where all three tiers of government will have to come together for discussions about funding arrangements.”

Meanwhile, the shire’s youth development team last week held a simultaneous outdoor cinema and community barbeque event at the communities of Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) and Walungurru (Kintore), at the far eastern and western ends of the shire respectively.

The event showcased a feature length film, The Right Track – Stay Strong, Live Long, as part of a six month Youth Suicide Prevention Project funded by FaHCSIA, and implemented on eight communities across the shire, with over 300 participants. Similar events are being held this week and next at Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff) and Ntaria (Hermannsburg), Utju (Areyonga) and Amoonguna.

Pictured below is the screening at Ltyentye Apurte. Photo courtesy MacDonnell Shire.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Shires: either revenue must go up or expectations, down

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