Council: one third of budget still unspent

p2440 ASTC Scott Allen 660

Above: Second from left is Scott Allen, council’s new Director of Technical Services, who might help spend some the surplus. In this part of the meeting he was addressing Ilparpa Road residents about the construction of a footpath along the road, due to start 1 July.

 

By KIERAN FINNANE

 

The permanent appointment of a Director of Technical Services might help with the spending of the Town Council’s more than healthy surplus, revealed at last night’s meeting to be (to date) a whopping $12m.

 

As Councillor Jade Kudrenko remarked, that is roughly one third of council’s total operating revenue.

 

Council’s financial performance had come under close scrutiny during the meeting, principally from questions posed by Councillor Eli Melky, who has to his credit the public disclosure of substantial monthly reporting of council finances, including itemised expenditure down to the last cent.

 

Before his concerted efforts to bring this reporting out of confidential session, ‘open’ Finance Committee meetings were a tick and flick, over in a matter of minutes.

 

Last night Cr Melky (having done his homework the night before) worked line by line through the Budgeted Statement of Financial Performance supplied by Director of Finance, Dinesh Pillay, coming eventually to the surplus figure.

 

“That’s a fair bit!” he noted.

 

How does it comply with the Local Government Act? he wanted to know. Council is not supposed to be in profit, is it?

 

Council cannot budget for a surplus, confirmed Mr Pillay. He also said it was a “bit early” for a clear picture of what the actual surplus will be. The figures supplied were for “year to date April”.

 

He commented that having a full-time Director of Technical Services will address a lot of the issues of unspent budgets. Former works manager Scott Allen is now in that executive job, which has been vacant since last November.

 

However, there are only two months left of this financial year, and council is deeply into setting its budget for the coming year, which was what motivated Cr Melky’s questioning.

 

He was about halfway through when Cr Brendan Heenan, in the chair, suggested that if he had any more questions he could take them up with Mr Pillay by email.

 

Cr Melky politely declined, insisting on the importance of asking his questions in an open forum. Cr Kudrenko said she also shared his concerns.

 

Mr Pillay remained gracious and precise under fire and promised further detailed reporting next month to clarify some of the areas of confusion and query.

 

A better understanding of council’s GST position, what it owes, what it can claim back, was also requested by Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni and Mayor Damien Ryan.

 

On council’s vulnerability to the reduced GST distribution to the NT, Cr Melky was disappointed that a formal letter had not been sent to the NT Government requesting information about impacts on council revenue from NT budget cuts.

 

What council can’t afford is a misunderstanding of its position, he said, and from his examination of the budget documents supplied he could not see a mitigation strategy in place.

 

Mr Pillay said he had put the question to NT Treasurer Nicole Manison at the Convention Centre “in front of 70 witnesses”.

 

But clearly, putting the question is not the same as getting a precise answer, and Mr Pillay’s only real assurance last night was that the government had committed $4m to supporting public library services in the Territory although he didn’t know how much Alice Springs would get.

 

Cr Melky’s budget campaign is not over: he gave notice last night that he intends to move a motion that council pay off in full its Civic Centre loan. Repayments currently stand at around $500,000 per annum, he said. He asked Mr Pillay to prepare detailed information so that council could consider the issue.

 

There’s an election on the horizon. Cr Melky referred more than once to the possibility of himself and others not being able to continue in their roles beyond August. Council moves into caretaker mode on the 3rd of that month.

 

So he was making the most of his opportunities last night. He can be long-winded (at times frustratingly so) but he can also make good points. For instance, he asked the Director of Corporate and Community Services Skye Price what she is doing about the slump in pool visitation, down every month since last December.  What are the “marketing strategies” to counteract this decline? he wanted to know.

 

Ms Price sought to reassure: a masterplan and a business plan are underway as well as a marketing strategy for staged implementation.

 

When would this be put before the elected members, Cr Kudrenko (another straight-shooter) wanted to know.

 

Ms Price said the “aspiration” was to have all that documentation complete by the end of the calendar year.

 

Cr Melky appreciated that a detailed business plan is warranted, but right now a simple marketing strategy is what he was after, “a PR exercise” to promote what is on offer at the Aquatic Centre (which has been dogged by maintenance issues particularly affecting the 25 metre indoor pool).

 

 

 

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9 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Eric Sultan
    Posted June 3, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    Im quite happy with my Town Council. As compared to many same sized towns as the Alice south of the border we aren’t doing too bad!

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  2. Rebecca Curr
    Posted May 27, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    Perhaps serious consideration could go into a weekly Ilparpa rubbish pick up now the council has a large surplus. Currently the only service we receive as ratepayers is grass mowing on the verges on a very irregular basis.

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  3. Springs Alice
    Posted May 18, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    With a $12m surplus please build more social housing to accommodate the Alice Springs homeless population.

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  4. A Masonn
    Posted May 17, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    Alice Springs Town Council, promotion of Alice Springs seems to be far more important than your income source – married couples and singles, who have to pay increased rates year after year ad infinitum.
    Why is the council spending a fortune on the promotion of the town when the only beneficiaries are local businesses? Surely this is the responsibility of the NT government?
    This council and the previous ones for the last twenty or thirty years have forgotten their core duties – I wonder if they care? Self promotion seems to be the priority.

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  5. Hal Duell
    Posted May 17, 2017 at 10:44 am

    Congratulations to Scott Allen for stepping up into the executive position of Director of Technical Services. I wish him well.
    The fact that Council is still paying for their new chambers comes as a surprise. I thought the original loan was for only 10 years. If we are still paying that loan off, how much, including interest, have those chambers ended up costing us, the ratepayers?
    And congratulations to Cr Melky for keeping as much of Council’s financial story as he can in a public forum. That’s our money Council is spending, and we have every right to know what they are doing with it.

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  6. John Bell
    Posted May 16, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    Coming in under-budget on council operational costs is a pleasant change from the councils down here in Mexico Melbourne south of the border.

    Down here, more than a third of our Mayors are on salaries of in excess of $100,000 pa, have exorbitant annual budgets for councillors’ “professional development”(a euphemism for overseas junkets to climate change conferences and the like), impose dodgy extra rates for garbage bin collection to get around the rates cap, and rort their travel allowances.

    I give Damien and councillors a glass half full tick for their operational costs.

    If they could somehow go against the trend and use the operational surplus to ease the rates burden, the Alice council would set a gold standard that would put our councils down here to shame.

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  7. Mark Wilson
    Posted May 16, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    Indeed Alex. This is the best news ever! A rate reduction might lift some pressure off the 9000 or so ratepayers (please give us a more accurate figure Rex).
    Even better .. any chance of a refund? We know how government departments abuse spending at the end of the financial year to ensure their budget next year! How about we turn it around and REWARD coming in UNDER budget. That’s radical!
    Any chance of getting the dead tree in my street removed now? The pro tree loppers took off above 10m over a year ago. Still waiting ASTC.
    Thanks to Eli Melky.

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  8. Dr Who
    Posted May 16, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    @1 Very well put Alex and a great suggestion, however I wonder if later in the year, the money has been spent/wasted even and the poor suffering ratepayers have to stump up again. I hope not this year. To me having a surplus now indicates no need for a rate increase, “we” have to live within our own means, time the three tiers of government do the same, I won’t hold my breath waiting though. Having said all this negative stuff, I believe some councillors do get what the public are concerned about…

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  9. Posted May 16, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    Given the revelation of this “more than healthy” budget surplus and that the “council is deeply into setting its budget for the coming year”, perhaps ratepayers could be pleasantly surprised for a change with a REDUCTION for next year’s rates? That might help to solve the council’s “problem” of excess funds (would that we could all have a problem like that!) and help ease – if ever so slightly – the financial burden faced by many at a time of worsening economic conditions. There certainly seems to be no justification for an increase in the setting of rates for the next financial year.

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