Are we spending time and money doing things that are important to our community?
Question 4 in the “10 Hardest Questions to answer in Local Government”.
The answer to this one is yes, no and maybe. Please let me explain.
The answer could be any of the above depending on your interests/circumstances. We get people ringing us to tell us not to worry about planting any flowers in pots as it doesn’t matter as much as roads. Then we get people telling us to plant more flowers to beautify the region as it increases local and tourist satisfaction. We get people telling us to close the libraries down as they are a waste of resources, and yet we loaned 40,433 physical items to community members during 2016-17. We get people ask why on earth we upgrade sporting facilities when they themselves don’t use them. (Note: these are all actual phone call received by Councillors).
Suffice to say, if each individual had the opportunity to spend the money for themselves, it would be spent in a myriad of ways. For elected council, we have an obligation to care not just for the youth, the sporty, the avid readers, the elderly, the producers and the families, we have an obligation to care for you all. As such, inevitably sometimes will make decisions to spend money on a project which you yourself will not agree with, as you yourself will not find direct value in it. Getting the right mix of functionality and livability in a community is extremely difficult, particularly with the limited resources available to us and the ever reducing funding sources from government.
The hardest thing for those of us in council to swallow is when we must spend money and copious amounts of time on things that the community doesn’t see. Planning. Before we can achieve support (either political or monetary) for projects which the community desire, we have to jump through many hoops. We often work on a project for months or years without the community being able to see any results at all, as we have to use this time to tick all the boxes. Legislation. The laws are always changing and even if we agree with them, each change will bring a change in our processes which we then spend time implementing (eg. The Biosecurity Act has taken profuse resources of council to implement) and if we don’t agree with them in their entirety (e.g. vegetation management) we then spend time and resources fighting them on behalf of our community. These fights usually are quiet as they are done behind the scenes initially. Finally there are Running costs of council. Insurance $1.04 m; Software licensing $322,000; Electricity $1m and audit costs $190,000 just for an example. Just like every other household and business in the region we are not immune to the costs required just to open our doors.
So are we spending time and money doing things that are important to our community? I’m sticking with my first answer – Yes, no and maybe.