Does a harder look at Council’s accounts reveal a different story on developer contributions?

Yesterday we ran a story highlighting that Council’s accounts showed that they had accounted for almost $21m in unspent developer contributions.

By The Editor

That issue has become current because of a controversial State Government proposal to be put to Parliament to take stronger control over developer contributions made to local government authorities such as the Coffs Harbour City Council and others on the Coffs Coast.

The full story, including links to previous stories and a definition and explanation of what developer contributions are and what they are meant to be used for according the NSW Local Government Association, can be found here; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/council-has-almost-21m-in-unspent-developer-contributions-in-the-bank/

Could there be more than $21m in unspent developer contributions?

Yesterday we focused on Council’s figures. But as with all figures further analysis unveils new possibilities.

To show you what we mean lets go back to the August 26 figures presented to Councillors on that date which were reaffirmed in the accounts presented in the agenda for last night’s council meeting.

Lets again look at the External Restrictions figures. This is money council has ‘ring fenced’ for eventual expenditure on certain items.

External restrictions monies amounts to $139,150m, just over 55% of what council ‘has in the bank’.

Of that an amount totaling $11,600m is publicly allocated for water and sewerage as liabilities with a further $4,027m of developer contributions for water and sewerage.

So right there admitted developer contributions so far unspent now amount to $24,909m, almost $25m.

T2S?

However something else that needs to be taken into account are the figures for the Transition to Sustainabily entries.

This fund comes from a restructuring exercise done by council some while ago. Eight or nine years ago potentially. Normally restructuring savings are a one-off entry. So it has always been a point of amusement at least, and contention at worst, among those who know finance that somehow this is a bookkeeping entry and one which also seems to carry on and change every year.

But leaving that aside in it Council allocates $2,687m for water and sewerage.

Where do the monies for that come from? There may well be a very straightforward answer. However sources have told CCO they believe some, perhaps even all, may have come from developer contributions.

If that is correct then the unspent developer contributions suddenly becomes $27,596m.

We do know that $10m from the T2S fund was allocated for Yarrila Place (formerly the CCS) and that seems to have been spent.

Lastly there is also an entry simply called ‘Sewer fund’ which has $29,041 attached to it. Again we are not sure whether that includes developer contributions too or if it comes in total directly from the sewer component in rates.

There are some who are arguing the real unspent developer figure is more like $47m. If that is correct then a further $20m needs to be allocated from somewhere. Could the answer lie in the Sewer Fund or have they been sent elsewhere over the years?

The T2S fund perhaps?

Our respected commentator, 40c, overnight posted the following on the comments section here – was he/she being very prescient?

Has there ever been questions or disclosure as to what was spent on the idea prior to it becoming publicly tabled? Can’t recall a single one. It’s in that area that I wonder if developer contributions were kept aside for the preliminary costs, which begs the question as to how early the council offices idea actually originated, awaiting an opportune time. (Run the ‘cultural’ element first, get the public onboard with a bigger local project, knowing you’ll add the offices later? Piggy back the State Govt push for infrastructure?) When and who cooked this thing? So the above comment doesn’t refer to consultants that we know about. And the CCS idea is infrastructure.”

Unspent Developer Contributions at least $27.5m?

At the very least we believe a strong case can be made that currently unspent developer contributions in reality are $27.5m. But the opacity of the make up of other entries over the years, especially the T2S fund, raise questions as to whether some developer contributions may have been sent there too.

As 40c points out, in the strictest sense of the word Yarrila Place is infrastructure.

Just arguably not what developer contributions are meant for according to the NSW Local Government Association?

Questions, questions, questions

Originally we were going to cover some other points arising from Council’s accounts today but they will now have to wait until early next week.

But let’s give you a foretaste.

Where did the $25m down payment to Council in the last financial quarter for the long term lease of the airport go? It’s hard to our eyes to see any obvious entry for it. Perhaps council could highlight it?

However, if it has been entered wouldn’t that meant the current available cash on hand for Council, $4,467m would be more like $29,467m? Or has that money been already spent? If so on what? Settling a problematic legal issue or similar perhaps? Or something else?

Is the current $4,467m of available cash on hand enough? Would it currently meet the OLG’s Fit for The Future guidelines and ratios? Is it true $4,467m equates to somewhere between two to three weeks running expenses for Council?

We will look at these in more depth next week

9 thoughts on “Does a harder look at Council’s accounts reveal a different story on developer contributions?

  1. I continue to repeat.
    If elected and with the support of the new Council, I will immediately move to engage, fully independent, forensic accountants, to determine what is happening within Council, in all areas of accounting.
    I do not expect anything has been done illegally, but it would appear that money has been shifted around, which needs to be clarified.

    1. An essential preliminary step in the process of restoring credibility to information relating to council’s management practices. As a ratepayer, and as someone who has strong doubts about the probity of both current councillors and senior council management, I’ll be most interested in the results of a forensic inquiry.

    2. Rodger a top tier management consultancy would also be advantageous in unravelling the GM’s corporate web and restructuring on a functional basis.

  2. Thank you, 40c, for your timely question re the progression timeline of new Chambers. From my post of July 2021, I quote:
    “Following a carefully managed community consultation process, Councillors were advised of disunity within cultural groups on their priorities for a Cultural Precinct. This advice was not consistent with views held by the wider community. This selectively acquired opinion resulted in a resolution passed in 2018 setting the Entertainment Centre apart from the Cultural Space. It appeared innocent enough – at the time. No one foresaw the opportunity created by this resolution for the appropriation of this ‘Civic Space’ as new Council Chambers”.
    In my opinion, removing the Entertainment Centre/Civic Centre from the CCS project in 2018 was the cornerstone for the “switch” to Council Chambers. The genesis of this transition may be indicated when our Mayor abandoned a previously declared dedication to the City Hill model, culminating in the 2018 separation resolution. The community seemed blissfully unaware of the significance of this subtle process.
    During the years of its incubation, the introduction of Council Chambers was never disclosed. The mysterious inclusion of the word “Civic” in CCS and the revelation that Civic Space meant amenities for the conduct of Council business, resulted in astute citizens asking questions.

  3. Enlightening comments all round. Your timeline is very helpful, TT. Timeline. There you go, a couple more instances of the word so that we can search for it later. Must admit, the significance of your observations passed me by when you first presented it. Not now. Thank you.

    Had a quick look to see again when Jan Strom resigned: March 2019. Only to keep that in the mix. She thinks the project is a good thing, but when she left the voting bloc was secured in certainty, as would in private be known, and emboldened by someone acquitted with legal knowledge, self interest, and little or no community care.

    Let’s remember too the application to run with the reduced number of councillors, ensuring the bloc for the whole term. (Critical information from Tom, thank you.) At that point, it didn’t matter events could become public, such as they were public. The facade was on.

    A moment’s reflection threw up this thought, too. Look at us! Seeking to find out who did what and when, about this project, the project that wounds – and depresses – the people of this region. Wishing to throw light into the darkness on a public matter, of public money.

    Pause for a second and ask: What are the actual facilities involved? That they’re trying to do? A library. A museum. An art gallery. Council offices.

    Simple stuff. The basics of a Local Government Area. Trying to achieve them sent this community and council to kingdom come.

    That alone, right there, is sufficient proof of a failed council. Basic facilities. Facilities the smallest LGA in Australia has got covered and about which didn’t think twice.

    In trying to achieve those embarrassing basics what has happened?

    Funds have been shifted? Promises made and broken. Massive backlash, never here before seen, missiled through required channels. Willfully ignored. Trust in management, a mayor, councillors, and government itself: shot. 15,000 signatures in a parliamentary petition. Cheap, foolhardy or mongrel political ploys run, again and again. Letters of urgent appeal to the Minister and to the Premier of New South Wales. A speech in Parliament. More petitions. Secrecies and silences and ‘in confidences’ everywhere you look. On it goes. Three years of it.

    Unbelievable.

    Guess what? Uniformity alert! All of that, to provide the basics of what any LGA needs, is unnecessary.

    Uniform, normality for providing facilities: explain the need, make the case, fund it openly, and build them. Councils have been doing that as a matter of good normal government since year dot. Not this bunch.

    Pathetic.

    Steve McGrath, the Executive, Denise Knight, and whomever else is involved in this who knows what happened, who did what and when, and condones its secrecy, its ploys, for these most basic facilities, and furthers it, should be so ashamed as to never apply for responsible office again, wouldn’t you think? Out of embarrassment, if nothing else? If, that is, one’s head was on right, and not bent out of shape.

    For this massacring of the basics, we have a general manager who thinks he deserves to be raised high above its citizenry, isolated with the plushest office accoutrements, sequestered lord-like from the public (who also pays his salary) except for the secret little escalator and a select clique with whom he can share and revel in the spoils. And plot.

    The same general manager who expects to be rewarded for his central role in in the devastation caused in trying to elevate himself to be up there in it.

    Isn’t this the same general manager whom the NSW Government would right this minute have in mind, as a prime example, of why developers’ monies should be denied from him?

    Look across the state political landscape. Local governments laid out. What do you think the hard heads in the NSW Government see? They see Coffs Harbour City Council. Don’t worry. They know.

    They look across the statewide fields of jurisdictions laid out flat before them — then there’s this one. The one with “the project”. Sticking up as conspicuous as the system has known.

    Where, ever in known authority, has a country LGA had a general manager try to have a community pay to summit him or herself like that? Put him or herself a hundred feet on top of a building overlording everyone and everything else?

    What about in Greater Sydney, NSW? Does a general manager of those huge councils sit on top of a building like this one wants to do?

    You’d roll with laughter if it wasn’t true.

    The NSW Government hard heads. Is it this, that they see? “A bumpkin from tiny wayout Young, a gift-of-the-gabber, possibly booted out of Singleton, burrowing deeper into the nurturing public teat, a manager unionist, who took personal advantage of a crisis, wriggled himself into a choice seaside paradise, and now is plying to elevate himself to a position high above other general managers and communities?”

    Read that again. Not good, is it.

    The thing is, that picture of Steve McGrath wouldn’t be like that if there were a history of high achievement we could also point to, to balance it, to over-ride it. There isn’t.

    That ugly truth and a heap more has tried to be “papered over’ (well said, Little Charlie), and altered, by an onslaught of glossed-up PR.

    PR. PR. PR. Media releases. Articles. Radio bigmouth barrages. Websites. A video. Pictures all glossed up and un-real. On and on.

    Not once has this council registered a simple truth about their PR. When council turn their backs on their public, then cajole and preen and coerce and sell, trying to persuade, no matter how blowhard the onslaught they’re pushing out – they’re sending it outward to bugger all.

    They just look stupid. The overbearing thing their public see is their backs. The back of their heads. The budgerigarble onslaught goes straight out into the Pacific. It’s funny, really.

    So here’s the state of play. The above means nothing to them. When the public officers involved in cooking and furthering this project turned their backs on the community they made of themselves – aliens.

    Voices of critique, of question, of concern, of outrage, of analysis, of commonsense, of lived experience, of proven knowledge, of wisdom, all of it, to them, sent them then deeper into their aloneness. Continue your voice, just like this, they continue deeper. Farther into their cocoon.

    You’ll hear it in meetings, now. They’re done with it. The facade has been slapped away. They just want the job finished, now. Build as much as they can. Pass as much as they can. Don’t like it? You’ve been dismissed. You’re out of mind. They couldn’t care less.

    Division, isolation and alien-ism is complete.

    We have a Mayor who thinks little jokes and quips are funny, now, about this thing. Couldn’t give a toss that she’s quipping and giggling in public. In the chamber’s Chair. After everything that’s damaged, that says it all. And that’s a character statement, one that in any representative system doesn’t belong.

    Here is a shocking example now about that cocoon, the extent of their alienation. Sally Townley discussing a voting item in the meeting last Thursday, verbatim, as she begins: “In the new council we -” She went on to say something about the next things they can do as the project ‘continues’.

    That’s a person who doesn’t question her re-election. That’s a person who thinks, no, who expects to be re-elected as a god given matter of course. No second thoughts, no uncertainty. Already elected. In plurality, too: more of them, straight into the new council where she feels she and the others who vote for this project deserve to be, to continue it.

    Hard to believe. Never heard of it before. That is a Councillor’s statement of mind that has not only alienated from public sentiment, it has alienated from the good and normal workings of the system itself. It is a statement of mind without respect for the system, without respect for a public awaiting their right to choose for whom to vote.

    And without respect for the new council’s right of choice about a project such as this.

    That is what this project does. It is spiritually bleak. It sucks good thinking out of good human beings, whenever “the project” comes into presence. It was conceived in suspicious secrecy, and is so misaligned from good government in that conception that it is destructive.

    Coffs Harbour City Council. This term. Massacring the basics. Conspicuous.

    This is an addition then to reaffirm a continuing force of public will. Stopping this project is a slow process, we know that. We’re talking about simple facilities. Basic, basic. Basics that have been slaughtered into the dark depths of ugliness and carnage. It cannot continue.

    Stopping it will do council good. In fact, stopping it will arguably do good for councils and communities all around NSW. Get some respect back into NSW Local Government.

    This project will be stopped. Anyone who’s followed a slow game knows the beginning signs of serious consequence. Knows the first real-life feelings of reckoning. The early, gentle touch upon the cheek, by the powerful functions of defeat.

    A dove-like messenger of the multitude of shapes and forms, flown in to touch those involved in this project, for what is to come. It is just a start —

    Our NSW Government is moving in to reclaim a chunk of local funding – to strip away council sovereignty, its privileges of custodianship, and the rights to responsibility.

    1. Divorced from reality, or simply choosing to ignore it, Knight, Townley and company must surely, in even the most miniscule respect, sense that their political futures have evaporated, thanks to their, in my opinion, unethical behaviours.

      As I see it, Knight clearly knows that she stood an iceberg in hell’s chance of re-election, hence her decision to avoid further public humiliation, a sensible but, to my way of thinking, cowardly attempt at self-preservation. Were she a believer that her behaviour had been appropriate, she’d have had the guts to put herself forward, confident of the community support which she so often refused to test by virtue of a simple poll. Her light-hearted behaviour in the Chair, since announcing her decision to bail out, and her extraordinary appeal for public support against the state government, may be seen as strong evidence of a reluctance to come to terms with reality. Flippancy often conceals discomfort.

      Townley’s expectation of re-election, revealed by a slip of the tongue, speaks volumes of a person whose single-mindedness in the pursuit of her personal goal, the creation of new council chambers, with attached cultural spaces, has been allowed to override all common sense and any understanding of her community duty. Her repeated failures to bring even a pause to the progress of her pet project, so that community views could be assessed, reveals an unwillingness to put community wishes ahead of her own. That she confidently expects to be re-elected reveals, in my opinion, a deluded individual who has no real grasp of community feelings or expectations.

    2. 40c “WOW” loved every word , great how you put the floodlight on the ones taking advantage of the situation “just legally”.
      Tis a shame we do not have the bygone laws of stoning/beheading/burning at the stake/etc.
      But we do have the ability to vote and IMO we have to send a message and boot the lot out .
      Then the new fresh councilors can put the broom through the entrenched swamp.

    3. You have absolutely ‘nailed it’ 4oc. Brilliant, thank you.

      I just had to go into town and there rising above all the crane to construct the glorified green monument to captive interest’s inane vanity was being put together.

      That the four gnomes who blindly and arrogantly continued to vote for this travesty of a so called cultural centre were incapable of seeing they were being played like a fiddle by the reject from Young and Singleton (and there is *much* more to that one than the official story) beggars belief.

      Sally; I voted for you last time. Never. Ever. Ever. Again.

      Yes, you work hard as a Councillor but this blind and abysmally explained pursuit of this endlessly expensive inferior edifice shows a huge weakness on your part. And that is big fat F- for you in my book.

      And many other people’s too from what I’m hearing.

      It’s time to put a broom through Council come 4 December if the State Government via the OLG can get it’s act together. And then a new Council needs to go over and through the Executive of Council with a barbed wire brush and Dettol!

  4. 40C, re your comment that our Councillor resigned in March 2019, exactly midway through the Council term. We should note that an extraordinary number of meeting absences were progressively approved for this Councillor preceding their resignation.
    The timing of these actions has significant implications as to whether an election was required to replace the vacancy, continuation with eight Councillors, or the appointment of the following eligible candidate from the 2017 Election.
    Undoubtedly, this decision process was pivotal in the evolution of the Mayoral Junta in my opinion.

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