Monday, April 20, 2015

Eurobodalla – Not fit for the future?

Eurobodalla – Not fit for the future?

Eurobodalla Shire currently fails 4/5 criteria set by IPART for independent viability. Our Shire has an inadequate rate-able base to sustain its infrastructure and even basic essential council services, AND THIS SITUATION WILL WORSEN if jobs are lost and income generating residents are forced to leave.

Analysis of current and projected ABS economic data reveal that Eurobodalla fails the "Fit for the Future" fitness test and the forecast is for a downward spiral into poverty, business closures, forced relocations and community fragmentation. 

Eurobodalla residents have little to no capacity to sustain increased economic pressure:

Our economic profile:

55% of residents have an income < $1250 a fortnight
30% are retired, many are on fixed incomes 
< 10% of the Shire population earns over $2000 a fortnight, compared with the state average of almost 30% (2011 census). 
40% youth unemployment above NSW state average
30% of residents are employed (13300 out of 37600)

The average yearly income comparison:
NSW =$68000
Bega Valley = $45000 
Eurobodalla = $33000

Rates in the Eurobodalla:
Despite a compromised capacity to pay, our charges are higher than Bega and Shoalhaven. Councils’ debt projections are set to increase by $40 million over the next ten years, unless they are permitted to keep putting up the rates. This means repeated increases of 26% plus every four years. On top of the base average $800 p.a. rate are the other 43% of charges which include water and sewerage availability.
We need to increase our rateable base:
As Council already subsidises thousands of dollars in rate subsidies for those that cannot afford their rates, those that who can will have to pay more, as will businesses. But what happens if those people who can pay decide to leave the shire? Some commentators believe that 100,000 people are now the minimum number of people to sustain a local government area. With our reputation for obstructive and unresponsive local government, it is unsurprising that prospective investors and potential residents opt for the neighbouring shires.

Examples of the anti- development attitude include the attempts by investors to open a retirement village and run the airport. The Bunnings development
took nearly eight years of negotiations sending a message to other companies not to waste time, effort and money considering Eurobodalla.

Our shire is seen by others as lacking in both foresight and economic development, and the requisite fiscal responsibility to sustain our own communities and environment. A risky place to commit to or invest in. Move on, nothing to see here.
Which brings us to the big question - are we Fit for the Future?
T Corp, the government’s financial arm, told us in 2013 that the economic outlook for the Eurobodalla Shire was rated as MODERATE, versus SOUND for Bega and Shoalhaven. With the underlying financial statement of long term losses, many councils have been told that unless they improve, they will die. ESC tenuously meets only 1 of the 5 criteria for viability.
Economic activity and sustainable jobs growth are the ONLY way to ensure a viable future for the whole community - especially our youth. Councils’ blatant misrepresentation that we are “forging ahead” is starkly illustrated in the table below:
Residential Building approvals figures comparing the Eurobodalla with Bega Valley and Shoalhaven shires since the turn of the century:
Year                          ESC    Bega   Shoalhaven
13-14                         174      168        524
12-13                         122      136        499
11- 12                         95       150        399
10-11                          83       180        486
09-10                        127       138        504
08-09                          91       119        378
06-07                        163         90        434
05-06                        236       150        460
04-05                        292       189        734
03-04                        419       215        993
02-03                        445       244        1065
01-02                        407       270        1168
 ( ***Shoalhaven are about 2.4 x the size of our population, Bega just slightly smaller)
This data begs the question...What happened to our Shire between 2007 -14? What was the planning departments’ agenda and policy direction during this timeframe? Government cannot create wealth - at best through sound policy, and allowing adequate growth, they preserve the capacity for enterprising communities to realize their potential.
Ask yourself a few questions:
What happens to this equation if those who generate the wealth leave?
Are you currently getting more or LESS service for your increased outlay compared to 5 years ago?
What are the services we get actually worth? What do they COST? what should they ACTUALLY COST?
Which services are essential and can only be, and should continue to be, provided by the council?
Which services and operations should council axe? How many unnecessary services are jobs for the boys?
What is the ERA position?
ERA assures you that there will be a scare campaign that unless we stay ‘as we are’ things will only get worse - such as the unproven claims by the mayor that we would have to pay higher rates if we amalgamate. Many in the ERA would like to see the council maintained, but changed dramatically to become efficient. Good management is a start. Others passionately believe that amalgamations are the only way forward. The problem is there is NO debate.
Community debate on a sustainable future lacking:
Will council comply with the directive to engage with the community towards a sustainable future? Perhaps like Victoria, the State government will have to step in and force through change because the local vested interests are too strong. Allowing the council to solve the problem on their own will be a disaster, as they cannot recognise there is a problem. It is a problem that may require substantial staff reductions and the discontinuation of a range of services and operations.
By now, Council should be in full discussion with its community on how it sees the council in the future, if there is to be an adequate debate by June 30th. However there has been an irresponsible silence on the issue, despite Council having been instructed to engage with the community, to discuss everything from mergers of backroom services to amalgamations. This amounts to a failure to recognize the gravity of the situation.  So called efficiencies in closing tourism offices and associated personnel will save about 1% of the budget. Why is trivia being discussed and not the big picture?
What is the solution?
We need more wealth generating people to come and live here, and more wealthy people to visit, live and spend money here - at the moment, both these groups are being diverted to shires north and south by the policies and attitudes of our council.
Our local wealth generation is dependent upon tourism and hospitality, building, manufacturing and primary production. We need council to desist from stifling economic growth by withholding building approvals and business development that create real, meaningful sustainable jobs. We need council to facilitate the development of local enterprises, value adding to existing resources, and the building of local infrastructure. We need to be unencumbered from developing existing markets, products and services that other people value.
Perhaps the best result for the community would be for Eurobodalla Shire Council to cease to exist, if it cannot respond to meet the needs of the community, and chart a course for a sustainable future.


  1. Thank you for this update about the Fit for Future stuff. Andrew Constance has said the words when he was talking about amalgamations and I had no idea what he meant when he said that Eurobodalla Council was Moderate and S'haven and Bega were Good. It sounds like Eurobodalla isn't even Moderate.

    Why isn't Council telling us all this. They go behind our backs with a rates increase that we said we did not want and now they have a cone of silence when it looks like we are all going down a very slippery slope.

    Thank you for keeping us informed and putting this into the public domain because i looked on the Council website and all I could find was spin.

    K.D Downer ACT

    1. Interesting that another person who lives in the ACT has sent us the complete list of dates and times that Yass council is using to talk to selected ratepayers and groups , starting in April and going through to the end of May , on the whole subject of Fit For the Future. Avery professional approach. Words fail us on why our council cannot do the same. ERA supporter.

  2. Perhaps the ESC should cease to exist – northern part to amalgamate with Shoalhaven and southern with Bega.

    Would that be the end of the world ?

    Obviously raising the rates by abnormal increases would only be at best a short term panacea. Maybe costs, staff and service levels should be pulled back gradually over the next 5 years from Canberra levels to match revenue projections as a first step.

  3. Amalgamations are the thing that is needed. A whole book could be written on that but the "bigger is better" aspect is a fact of life in the case of shires. Bega and Eurobodalla Ratepayers should be encouraged to amalgamate.. huge costs savings..

  4. Congratulations on a very thoughtful and well researched article, which deals with what is probably the single most important issue facing this area. Rate increases, sea level rise decisions, even waste of public money are really more symptoms of a much deeper malaise which affects this part of southern NSW, and that is a failure of the community to share a common vision of what the area should be, or should become.
    On the one extreme there are many people who would like to keep the pristine environment as it is forever, ignoring the fact that this involves some very high prices in terms of services and lifestyle for others in the community. On the other there are those who would see development as an end in itself, regardless of its environmental impact. In between there are those who would like to maintain as much of the environment which attracted them as is practical, commensurate with a realistic and desirable level of services. Yet though this in between group is the majority their views do not appear to be adequately represented in the Council, and certainly not within Council management.
    The Council has, seemed determined to spend ratepayers funds with gay abandon, and when given choices picked the most expensive rather than most functional. It may be that these decisions and recommendations are made with the best will in the world, but this is far from clear to those who have to pay for them.
    Eurobodalla is potentially placed in the best of various worlds. Its proximity to Canberra should bring a regular, and substantial, cash flow into the community. Its waterways provide a further attraction both for locals and visitors alike. Yet one cannot help but feel there is no serious plan aimed at maximising the potential of the district for the benefit of those who live here and those who visit.
    As you quite rightly point out, economic activity is the essential driver of social benefit. Without it there are no jobs for our children, nor, in many cases, their parents. While extreme environmentalists condemn development the fact is it is the only way to achieve sufficient critical economic mass to provide the services they, as well as the majority of ratepayers, want and in many cases need.
    Rather than ignoring a petition from 100 businesspeople the Council should have agreed to work constructively with them to develop mutually agreed solutions to how Batemans Bay and the surrounding area should be developed. There is no reason why Orient Street could not be the equivalent of Noosa's Hastings Street, servicing not just the local population but also attracting visitors from Canberra, Sydney and even Melbourne. And Why didn't Council zone an area between Batemans Bay and Moruya for large developments such as Bunnings and other retailers and let the relevant companies decide when to move in?And who dreamed up the bright idea of having a six lane roadway lead to a two lane bridge?
    In regards to the fundamental question of whether ESC is fit for the future or should be amalgamated, my personal preference would be to see it remain, because I think it valuable for local government to be genuinely close to its people. but it would need to be a Council managed by staff and overseen by Councillors who were intelligently pro development, If not we may as well amalgamate and get it over with.

  5. Split north of the Moruya River, pass it to ACT. Most businesses only look to ACT, so why not become a part of it. (ERA FB comment)

  6. What is it with this Council where they don't discuss anything with the ratepayers. They say they do consultation but it is just to tick the boxes. Look at their consultation for the SRV. Ring 600 random people, ask rigged questions. Get over 200 written submissions. Discover more than 70% say NO and then ignore them anyway. Disgusting ignorance of who they are meant to represent. The gang of 7 should hang their heads in shame.

  7. Thank you for this newsletter. Is it sheer stupidity that the Councillors have decided not to engage with their voters. The Mayor said that the SRV they are going for is just the first of many more they will need. How sustainable and fit for future is that? Let's forget about $2million art galleries at Moruya Library of all the stuff that isn't roads, rates and rubbish and let's pay our rates to get the services we deserve and can afford. If we can't afford the Council Executive and all the hangers on that don't do core work them maybe they can join Medicare Local, St George, Campbell Page and all the other places closing down around the Mayors ears. Council chose to ignore the 150 strong business people who vote a no confidence motion in them. Ignore them at your peril we say.

  8. Well, THANK GOD someone has taken their head out of the sand – MAYBE!

    We moved to Long Beach in 2008 from WA, thinking it was up there with other beautiful parts of Australia and that our investment was sure to grow. 2 years on and the cracks were appearing, no progress, infrastructure was slow and any development was soon cut short. 6 years later we tried to sell our home, praying for someone from interstate to see what we initially saw, but didn’t and couldn’t afford to tell them the truth. It didn’t sell, only a couple of look ins after being on the market for 8 months – it was a lovely home in position and looks. We tried again in 2014, this time it did sell and we were OH SO HAPPY to be out of there and like “ The Castle” – It was only worth the same as what we paid for it 7 years ago.

    What a pity – what a real pity and after seeing your latest email – NO REGRETS.

    For Gods sake – somebody who has got ‘balls’ do something! The tourism is the ONLY thing that keeps Batemans Bay alive and it should be the centre – not Moruya. Yes we saw the foreshore get a facelift and it looks great. And the walkway is very pleasant also. But there Orient St is depressing and an eyesore. The pub there needs a good coat of paint – white or light grey not that AWFUL mustard color.

    Ive noticed there are other residents in Long Beach ‘ making their escape’ . You really need to get moving fast before you wont have to worry about collecting rates!

    (This comment was emailed to ERA and redirected to the ERA Blog)

  9. Thank you for your newsletter.

    I relocated to Eurobadalla Shire about 18 months ago.

    I was dismayed by Eurobodalla Shire Council's failure to adequately justify its proposed Special Rate Variation application. In particular I am dismayed by the Council's failure to examine the costs and benefits of merging with other councils. The Mayor's reasons for dismissing such an examination were in my view weak and uninformed. The 2013 report of the NSW Independent Local Government Review Panel (Revitalising Local Government) warned that the preservation of self interest by mayors and councillors would be one of the major roadblocks to reform of the local government sector. It appears there's such a roadblock in the Eurobodalla Shire.

    Based on my recent experience with mergers involving local council functions, I can confidently say that mergers, if implemented correctly, provide significant cost savings - particularly with the rationalisation of back-office services (HR, IT, accounting, financial management, payroll) and capital equipment management. Fact is large councils provide better and more cost-efficient services than small councils. I recently saw Batemans Bay residents collecting donations from shoppers for a heated swimming pool. Ulladulla's got a heated pool - it was funded by the Shoalhaven Shire Council which is substantially larger than our local council. Shoalhaven Shire Council has four year round Aquatic and Leisure centres!

    I can understand the concern of some residents that representation of their interests will be diminished in a larger council structure. This needn't be the case - the Panel's report (referred to above) addresses this matter. It's a well considered report and worth reading.

    Ratepayers should demand that their elected representatives examine all efficiency options including mergers. Hitting us with a 20% p.a. rate increase at this time without examining all options is unacceptable and demonstrates a moribund council administration.

  10. While I admire you all for actually bothering to keep up with all this info, I think that a lot of us don’t feel like there is much we an do to stop/change the Council doing what they are doing.

    You suggest that they have more public consultations….but I have been involved in some of their “consultations” and I find them to be a TOTAL sham- held mainly so they can say they held consultations. Then they just do what they were planning to do all along. Their recent “consultations” about whether we all wanted our rates raised 24% cost the Council a fortune to run ( hiring consultant firms to write long biases reports, etc) and was equally a sham! Once again they just twisted the supposed results to strengthen their application, which they put in anyway.

    More of these ‘consultations” will have absolutely no effect except to cost the Council even more money.

    Since ERA members remained a minority and now two of your elected members have defected…..I don’t think you can achieve much except “pester power” until the next election.

    I agree there is no reason for them to set up so many parallel and costly services, which we already have state government paid to run. While the Council has a good disability service, the State also has an office of the Dept of Aging and Disability based in Bateman’s Bay and covering the Shire. If the Shire did not run this service, the Dept of A & D would be forced to actually do their job or face an outcry.

    (This comment was emailed to ERA and redirected to the ERA Blog)


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