Local, Opinion/Comment

Does the Coffs City Council have “healthy financials”?

Councillor Michael Adendorff recently summed up in an article in the Coffs Coast Advocate of Wednesday 25 September his reasons for voting for the Civic and Cultural Centre development. 

“A progressive council with healthy financials” was one of the key reasons he gave.  

Rob Steuermann investigates this in the light of new information.

We do not appreciate the lengths council goes to produce their accounts. It would appear in my opinion that one set of figures seems to serve two outcomes.

Cr Adendorff. Photo – Triple M, Coffs Coast.

The first outcome is from the published, and audited, accounts for 2017-2018.  It reveals a loss of $383,000. We reported on this here last week.

The second outcome is from a data base of details released to the public on Tuesday 24 September this year by the Office of Local Government (OLG).   It used the same accounts but arrived at an operating profit of $5.79m. 

Are these results are within the range of what could be described as healthy financials?  Some key figures from OLG site are presented in the Table below for your consideration.

Movement in some key items 2015 to 2018

Item 2015 2018 Movement
Population 72382 75503 3,121 more
Density per km sq 61.7 64 rose 2.3%
Residents over 60 26% 27.7 rise of 1.7%
Socio-economic rank 70 61 down 9 places
Unemployment % 5.7 8.1 2.4% worse
Average income (2010) 39207 46577 $7370 in 8 yrs
Number of businesses 5471 5750 279 rise
Own source income 76.1 73.2 fell 2.9 %
Grants % of income 23.9 26.8 up 2.9 %

Comment: Coffs Harbour would appear at best to be stagnant based on these figures alone. In many aspects it has gone backwards. It appears not to be attracting or developing sustainable businesses. The number of businesses on a per population basis shows the local government area (LGA) to be approximately 2,000 below the state average for other LGA’s.

There is also increasing unemployment and council has an increased reliance on grants, many of which would be non-renewable.

CHCC rates from 2015-16 to 2017-18

CHCC average rates from 2015-16 to 2017-18. Source: OLG see more here.

Analysis of the Data Base

Also released to the public on Tuesday 24 September by the Office of Local Government (OLG) was a series of reports by local councils for 2017/2018.    The purpose of a data base of this type is to permit residents to assess how their local council performed.  It is possible to compare to the state wide averages (where appropriate) or to compare a local council to other council’s performances.  This data can be accessed here.

To make a comparison between councils categories were developed so as to identify, and compare,  “like with like” councils.  This is an attempt to make a level playing field. City to rural comparisons are of little use for a whole range of reasons.   

Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) falls in what is known as Group 5.  To gauge CHCC performance it is best to look at other councils in Group 5.  This includes the councils for;

  • Lake Macquarie
  • Maitland
  • Mid Coast*
  • Newcastle
  • Port Macquarie-Hastings*
  • Port Stephens
  • Shoalhaven 
  • Tweed and
  • Wollongong.

This is an odd grouping and is not necessarily based on population density or on size. At least not as much as the other regional NSW Council groupings appear to be. 

The OLG had their reasons for grouping these 10 areas as one Group but let us ignore this for a moment. 

Although it is not said consider the following facts;

  • When the OLG began to collect the data pre-2013 it was to help determine possible mergers and or amalgamations.
  • The outcome at the end of the process listed councils in some sort of order which was disputed by many councils:
    • the three at the lowest end of the ranking were Newcastle, Maitland and Coffs Harbour,
    • two councils have also had administrators in the recent past – Tweed and Port Macquarie.
  • Following the process a new council (Mid Coast) was formed when Port Macquarie combined with the Hastings* council,
  • Shoalhaven council was one of seven listed for audit and Coffs Harbour was also on this list.  Shoalhaven appear to have a current variation to rates in place (increase of 14.6% in the past year).
  • Port Stephens is still running at a loss but the possible reason for their inclusion is not known. It is adjacent to Newcastle and Maitland councils.

The reason for including Wollongong and Lake Macquarie is not known – both areas have populations over 200,000.    The two areas are at the high end of the scale in councillor fees and expenses.  In addition Lake Macquarie has one of the highest current levels of grants and contributions.  But, having said this, it is still an unusual group.

This might make comparison within this grouping a “little edgy”. 


Disclaimer – no comparison to Maitland is possible.  Accounts from the council were not received on time by the OLG.

  • Unemployment – Coffs Harbour (8.1%) and Shoalhaven (9.4%) are well above the state average (4.4%)
  • Borrowing costs – Coffs Harbour is equal top of group 5 with 6%.  This indicates there are loans but in the OLG report it is classified as own source income. The state average is 1%.
  • % of grants and contributions for capital works – Coffs Harbour (second highest) receives a healthy 19% of total income from this source. Port Macquarie Hastings tops the list at 26% (flood damage to major road).
  • Domestic waste costs –  Coffs Harbour wins hands down ($ 593) with group 5 average being $410.32
  • Administration costs per capita – Coffs Harbour ($529) is the highest in group 5 with the average being $261.
CHCC financial performance 2017-18. Source OLG. see more here.

So what are we to now make of this report into our “healthy financials”?  

There is more to come.


  1. Ron Richardson

    “Administration costs per capita – Coffs Harbour ($529) is the highest in group 5 with the average being $261.”

    Our Council admin costs are twice per person than the Group average? That is a hugely problematic figure right there if I ever saw one!

  2. My big question here is – Why does none of this seem to be of serious concern to any of our elected Councillors; not even the brightest and most educated. For how much longer do we have to put up with the craziness of Coffs Harbour City Council ? !!

    • Chris Bramley

      S.Simon I don’t think they are not concerned, I believe they are not properly informed of the situation. Council’s financials are unduly complicated and considerable reading. Add to that the weight of documents Council uses to “smother” the Councillors. It has been a growing practice where Council executive create large documents to discourage Councillors from reading beyond the summary. Pertinent facts are hidden therein.

  3. Rikki Bekker

    The point made by Ron is most interesting indeed. Namely; “Administration costs per capita – Coffs Harbour ($529) is the highest in group 5 with the average being $261.”

    Our Council admin costs are twice per person than the Group average? That is a hugely problematic figure right there if I ever saw one!”

    Yes indeed and if you want to see an example of ratepayers money being wasted on ‘admin’ issues take a look at page 7 of today’s Advocate where the Mayor has decided to address ‘myths’ around Gordon Street with some fanciful nonsense of her own that has probably been written by the GM’s office I suspect.

    How much has this full page propoganda piece cost and how many admin hours have been wasted on it?

    The CHCC spent a truck load of our money on a restructuring called ‘Transforming to the Future’ (T2F), or some such gobbledygook name, about six years ago and argued it would become far more efficient as a result.

    The real result? An admin structure in 2017-18 that costs each CH ratepayer twice that of other councils in our group and is the highest by far in that group! It’s probably got worse in 2018-19.

    Chris Bramley is right. Cutting down the amount of superfluous paper work obviously designed to baffle councillors who are then meant to ‘note’ hundreds of pages of reports after about three days notice of them might be one way to keep down these extravagent costs I’d suggest.

    Also on what comparative basis and deep analyis did Cr Addendorf base his statement that the CHCC had ‘healthy financials’? And just how does he define ‘healthy’ in this context?

    • l’m certain that the mayor did not write today’s full page ad in the Advocate. I remember a few years back when all prospective councillors, which included Denise Knight, each wrote a piece outlining what they would offer Coffs as an elected councillor. It was clear from Knight’s contribution that she was incapable of cobbling a few words together without making spelling and grammatical errors. So I assume all of her published work, including her weekly “From the Mayor’s Desk” is written for her, probably by someone in the GM’s office.

      • John Christie

        The mayor’s letter advert was posted on the Advocate facebook page. Within a short time there were 25 or so comments, all but one, negative towards the mayor’s hogwash and her level of arrogance (stating that opposition to the Knight/McGrath complex were “spreaders of myths and false information”. Basically she called her opposition ‘liars’ and hence the backlash.
        This morning the referred Advocate’s facebook post was removed. Since, I have sent 2 messages to the Advocate team requesting re-instatement of the this post complete with all the comments and asked who requested the removal of the post.
        It seems that the McGrath regime not only control this town but also local media.

        • With 2 full page spreads in today’s Advocate which cost big $, CHCC has obviously reminded the Advocate who their biggest customer is . Isn’t it great that we have CCO to ‘politely’ share our opinions without being censored?

  4. Gabrielle Brabander

    And still nobody from CHCC is able to tell us which income stream/s the Gordon Street project will be paid from. We are told no increase to rates so therefore where are the funds to service the borrowings of $46 million plus interest coming from?

  5. Rikki Bekker

    Good point Gabrielle.

    And as per the article by Rob Steuermann last week linked in the story above one has to ask are the CHCC 100% certain to get T-Corp loans for Gordon Street?

    Leaving aside the argument such a loan might be in breach of CHCC policy as raised by Cr Amos last week I have been told that the answers about T Corp loans given by senior management in Council the night the four Councillors walked out actually don’t say the T Corp loan is guaranteed.

    Someone I know who has listened to the recording of that Council meeting described the Senior Manager’s answers on that one to me as ‘weasel words’.

  6. I have endured our mayor on NBN news asking for community feedback on the cultural centre !!This is just too much,does she not get it .The community has spoken, over 13,000 residents have signed a petition saying no .I wonder whether our mayor has read George Orwell 1984 and “THE ALTERNATIVE FACTS”.Please stop this madness and listen to the ratepayers and put the project to rest

    • John Christie

      Watching her TV interview nearly made me choke on my dinner. According to other commentators, our mayor’s English language skills (reading, comprehension, spelling, grammar etc) aren’t that good. She clearly doesn’t understand a simple word such as ‘no’ and so, John Cleese, reading a George Orwell book is a bit of a stretch.

  7. Archie Black

    After sitting down and taking stock of what revelations that are being exposed as far as the financial situation OUR Council is in and it likely to get worse, much worse if the Gordon Street Council’s “All Welcome” goes ahead, one must question the General Manager’s financial competence and ability to understand the basics of accountability. The is a day of reckoning for anyone in charge of a multi million dollar organisation that will surely come is nigh, when the books are audited thoroughly exposing gross negligence at the top

  8. With regards to the community consultation and feedback on the cultural centre.I hope everybody is ready for “THE FAKE NEWS”. The community has embraced this project fully and the support has been overwhelming.With so much support the project will commence next year.Denise Knight will say “I would like to thank the community for their unwavering support for this amazing project”I wonder if Denise Knight requires a speech writer?

    • The fakery and deceit started long ago John….”only a noisy minority against new civic/cultural building,” ” we can afford this,” “present CHCC building past its use by date,” “not worried about 13,000+ petition,” “rates won’t increase,” “full costings have been undertaken,” “costings include fit out” etc etc. And let’s not forget “cripplegate”.

    • Brad Roberts

      John Christie I like you as you are a straight shooter and see thru all of the BS of CHCC. Political Correctness is a load of BS . Coffs Harbour has always been a Mafia Town. It’s always been an”Elitists Town” Before the word Networking was around …it was all done thru The Masons , Rotary,Apex,Lions ,Churches etcetcetc. It’s all about Elitism ,Ego and power and the ” LOVE OF MONEY$$$$$$ . These men had a secret society called the ” Mongrel Club”. Across from the CexClub one of the wife’s got suspicious and arrived at the Mongrels Clubs luncheon too EXPOSE the local female ESCORT called Angel was the Mongrel Clubs Lunch!!!!! Yes John this City has many Mafia secrets!!!!

  9. Dick McDermott

    I think you’ll find Adendorff will be one of those one term wonders, get elected because of a manipulated ticket, he only got 65 primary votes in 2016 and was elected on the mayor’s votes, persue an agenda not necessarily in the best interests of the community in general but in the interests of his sponsor in this case the mayor, achieve that agenda and then slip away. If you look back you will see there have been quite a few of these here in Coffs over the years.

  10. Peter Higgins

    I wish to send a copy of an e-mail (letter to Advocate) to Coffs Coast Outlook but do not know how to do so. The Advocate declined to publish my letter on the pretext, as advised to me, that it had previously published a letter from me and I had therefore had my say. The letter dealt with the on-going costs of the Civic and Cultural Space Project. Can anyone advise me how to proceed?

  11. Peter , just copy and paste your letter on to message board ” the one you just used ” to get here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *