Local, Politics

A memo on the Coffs Council from Councillor Paul ‘Moose’ Amos.

By Paul Amos

I am a councillor on the Coffs Harbour Council. This is a role I take very seriously and comes with great responsibility. One of these responsibilities is to keep the people who voted for me informed of how things are going.

Cr Amos

Many of you are good enough to say hello and let me know about community concerns, but it’s difficult to catch up with everyone as frequently as would be ideal. Hopefully these memorandums are helpful in this regard. The year seems to be going quickly and it is worth stopping to take stock of some of the issues that seem to have emerged already this year, and late last year. I would also like to flag some of the upcoming challenges as I see them.

Firstly, a quick (frank) appraisal on where the council sits financially. We are slipping slightly behind on our expected targets. If we look at our performance before government grants, subsidies and donations we are now expected, this year, to be in deficit to the tune of $4,000,000…the original expectation was a $64,000 deficit. I believe, of concern is that this position is actually understated. This is because of a revaluation of the water and sewer assets in 2017, giving us a “windfall” on paper. This has created a $7,000,000 reduction in the book value of our depreciation expense. If not for this unexpected occurrence after our 4-year budget was originally defined, we would now be showing a $11,000,000 deficit. We are trending the wrong way.

The concept of our leasing the Airport and Enterprise Park which may lead us to having an international airport is very alluring. I think most would support this. I supported this in the chamber vote because it is important that the community has confidence in Council’s efforts towards this end. I still have some concerns as to the robustness of the financial modelling figures councillors received to form our decision. However, I hope we can move on to the next step with an “offer too good to refuse”.

Some major infrastructure projects that require immediate attention include the Woolgoolga and Sawtell pool renovations, establishment of a new garbage facility (now 4 years from capacity), upgrading our water and sewer assets and resurfacing of the airport runway. In my view, these are the sorts of ‘nuts and bolts’ things that we must focus on first. They might not grab headlines and there is no ribbon cutting, but these are critical if we are to efficiently use public funds and provide safe facilities.

The new Council Chambers/ Library/ Art Gallery proposal is something I am still finding hard to support. In our current position, we simply can’t afford the proposal as it stands. Costs are already blowing out and I fear it could be done better and cheaper if all options were considered. It seems to have been a process of making a wish list, then making the budget fit, rather than setting a budget that is responsible, and determining the maximum value that can be achieved based on all the options.

I am very keen not to see us go into an astronomical amount of debt to fund a pet project. It is well and good to want to build a flashy building for the council chambers and leave a cultural legacy, we all do, but if this comes with a ball and chain of debt that rate payers and the next generation have to manage for the next 30 years through rate rises or cuts to other services, we can’t go down this road.

Sometimes, the good work initiated by Councillors and Council are goes unreported. Examples would be our implementation of a local preference policy for tenderers, which means that there is now some additional support for local contractors in a tight tendering situation. Others include incentives being offered for developers to build residential apartments in our CBD and rural land holders now being able to build a second detached residence on their property. This is reflecting the changing way that people like to live and share their space and should make Coffs Harbour properties a desirable investment.

A quick note on the Bypass. It is good we now have what seems to be general consensus on tunnels being our best option. However, there is no firm commitment from the politicians at the higher level and quite often the “back door” is left open by the rider that “all vehicles must be able to travel on any Bypass”. This leaves the possibility that short, high tunnels will be delivered. Beware of these slippery sorts of promises. If this shortcut is taken, we will be left with a high, imposing road with a lid on it. We must keep the pressure in place for comprehensive tunnels to be built.

With some knowledge of Local Government now, I feel compelled to comment on our needs at the next level of government. We are coming to a State election with several “once in a generation” issues. These include the quality of the City Bypass road, the future of our public spaces such as the Jetty Foreshores and the health of our creeks and waterways. All are time critical and all are issues that may put State Government priorities in conflict with our local community priorities.

With our long-standing State representative retiring, there is a risk that whoever comes next (regardless of party affiliations and Bypass promises) will be viewed as the ‘new kid on the block’. It’s conceivable that the ‘new kid on the block’ may be told to sit down and shut up. Accordingly, I would encourage voters to ask the candidates what their response would be in this situation. Let’s be a little selfish here and concentrate on our immediate “world”. Let’s pick someone who will put our community before personal or professional allegiances or self-serving career aspirations. We need to be certain our representative will have the guts and grit to fight for impact rather than their own survival.

It is time to back a person not a party. We need to choose our representation on the basis of selfless contribution, and a pledge that they will exert strength for our community before their party position. Nationals, Labour, Greens or Independent ….it does not matter. We need to back someone with our community interest at heart and loyalty first and foremost to our community.

I would encourage any undecided voters to ask the question….” what will you say if you are told to fall into line?”

Thank you for you continued support. I know I will not please all the people all the time, but I am giving it my best shot.

Cheers ….Paul Amos

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Editors note: The above is the latest in a series of emails sent out to ratepayers and constituents by Cr Amos on Thursday 7 March 2019.

It is reproduced in its entirety with the only changes being to emphasis and lay out.

12 Comments

  1. Bruce Thomas

    Good on you Paul Amos, well said 🙂

  2. Thank you Paul on many levels. As an Independent Candidate in the upcoming election all your consideration of local issues is really appreciated. Bringing to light the true financial state of our local council critical. I have listened to the council meetings on the live broadcast and heard your questioning and felt the responses were inadequate.

    A once in a life time opportunity is absolutely correct. An Independent representative with and independent voice in the NSW State government speaking for the Coffs Harbour electorate would certainly get noticed. As an Independent there are many planning and state wide issues regarding our agriculture land and water quality that could be addressed.

    So many possibilities.

    • George Partos

      Paul we can’t let the Cultural Centre to go ahead as you have reported. Stick my your guns . Hopefully other councillors will see the light.

  3. Gabrielle Brabander

    Thank you Cr Amos for your honest and frank assessment of the Council position, particularly with regards finances. Listening to Council meetings, l too feel the responses to questions of budget and finances inadequate. Of specific concern is the proposed Civic Centre Project. Figures of $76+ million are being thrown about like it is petty cash. l know you have previously asked the question of your fellow Councillors, what is the walk away figure? Rather than answering this very pertenant question, the response appears to be go ahead at any cost. l know that addressing ‘boring’ things like our waste management does not appeal to ego but, as a ratepayer, l deem this far more critical than an overpriced, over the top new civic centre. Some in Council have lost sight of their role, and I fear this will negatively impact the community for decades to come.

  4. WOW….. What a unique Councillor Paul Amos is turning out to be. By having a few “Independents” looking after our community instead of self-interested individuals and alliance cohorts, Coffs Harbour could become a place of iconic greatness.
    More please Cr Amos and STOP the outrageous spending.

  5. Archie Black

    If only Cr.”Paul “Moose” Amos was standing as an Independent candidate for the upcoming NSW State Elections !!
    We would have at last, a man of the people, for the people, elected by the people.
    It could have allowed Coffs Harbour to break away from the rusted on, take it for granted of being elected, time after time attitude that the Nationals have had here for decades.
    A well written and honest appraisal of our City, Cr. Amos.
    Thank you for your efforts that hopefully will see a few sane heads rethink this crazy spend up by your fellow Councillors and Senior CHCC staff that Coffs cannot afford and could lead to chaos and the sacking of our elected Council, should we have a Labor Government run NSW in a fortnight.
    Our Council is somewhat on the same self destructive path that Premier Gladys Berejiklian embarked on with her destruction of a perfectly good stadium, spending billions to replace it when greater needs are crying out for funding.

  6. Paul, thank- you for raising the issue of the accounts but more information is needed.
    1. Is the $4 million related to the General Expenses account? (Note water and sewerage have a separate account).
    2. How do you get a “windfall” on paper from revaluing the water and sewer assets? The asset should be shown at cost in the plant register..
    3.The depreciation reserve should not fall unless the asset is written off / sold. So, was it or part of the asset sold?
    3a. To Whom?
    3b. At what cost?
    3c. And on what date?

  7. In view of commentary now coming from Councillors, everyone here and on the associated Face Book pages should take a good look to see how a NSW Council should be run:-

    https://www.northsydney.nsw.gov.au/Council_Meetings/Financial/Key_Performance_Indicators

    https://www.northsydney.nsw.gov.au/Council_Meetings/Community_Engagement/Customer_Satisfaction

    Ted Mack was known as “The father of Independents” and his legacy as Mayor for North Sydney Council lives on.

  8. Thanks for the update Paul it was refreshing, and it would also appear that their needs to be a forensic Audit on Council expenditure to ascertain the underlying problems in COuncils accounts. It weould seem all to easy to continue to overspend and again ask ratepayers to pay further special levies to balance the books. Management has got it wrong. From a developer’s aspect, dealing with the Council is quite tedious and there seems to be an attitude of how can we template as many technical and corporate governance issues on any application which has turned many developers away from Coffs Harbour due to “it’s just too hard”. What happened to the role of let’s see how we can work together to get a great outcome in an efficient timeframe. I remember Council used to have an edict of that if after a term of forty days had elapsed an applicant could on reasonable grounds deem the application had been approved. And management ensured staff processed applications in a timely manner. Obviously we live in a world of substantial governance and we now involve so many more government departments in the approval process rather than the Council professionals being the ultimate approval authority. The major problem now is that rather than approval with conditions, placing the onus back on the developer to provide certain requirements before commencement or completion, every possible outcome must be researched and proven with details provided before approval is given. Also, I wondering how the Ratepayers would react to the millions of dollars of idle property the council owns, particularly in the CBD, when they are currently running a significant deficit. This ownership also serves to stifle potential development of the CBD because of the considerable idle landholdings the Council now as. Ask for a heat map of Council properties and see for yourself. The Gordon Street development is Council simply repeating past mistakes, just on a more major scale. When the current building was built by Max Glenn is was designed for at least one additional floor. A decision was made then by Mayor Smith to set aside City Hill for a site that could be utilised with sufficient parking and enough area for expansion as the years go by. This is smart. But no, the current theme of having another relative short-term showpiece, providing further detriment to the CBD parking is simply ridiculous. I would hope that the people of Coffs Harbour will wake up to that fact before it is too late.

  9. With utter sadness, the majority of the Coffs Harbour community would stand behind everything stated and put up here by Archie Black, Cob, Gabrielle Brabander and Mark Dodd.
    As far as it’s known from several high-standing sources, nobody has ever said “what a pleasure it is dealing with Coffs Harbour City Council” OR “what a pleasure it was dealing with Coffs Harbour City Council”
    B’ shameful

  10. Bruce Thomas

    Thankyou Paul, it is a pleasure to read something sensible regarding CHCC and the proposed new Great White Elephant of a CBD City Hall.

    Interesting too that the St Helena tunnel north of Byron Bay could also be described as a ‘high short tunnel’ with steep approach inclines on both sides and yet dangerous good trucks (Class 1 and Class 2.1) still have to bypass the tunnel. That makes me think we also will end up with high short tunnels anyway.

  11. darren leaney

    HI Paul
    Your frank and honest assessment ( & communication) on the current situation is appreciated and is what does, and will continue to set you apart from the pack .
    Its probably fair to say the majority of individuals that serve community via Council do so with passion , however passion combined with execution & a do what it takes attitude will get results – you’re a ripper Paul

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