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.
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
|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
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
- Mid Coast*
- Port Macquarie-Hastings*
- Port Stephens
- Tweed and
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.
So what are we to now make of this report into our “healthy financials”?
There is more to come.