It’s a conundrum that’s not easy to answer. Yet it occurs time after time. As is occurring right now. Is it better to claim to be on top of things because you want to ‘look good’?
Or is it more sensible to accept some deficiency and receive help? The second option may show you not to be as diligent as you might like others to think? It’s not always easy.
In recent weeks various media sources, including locally Channel 7 and the Coffs Coast Advocate, ran stories on a report commissioned by the NRMA called ‘Funding Local Roads’. This report highlighted the state of the roads in coastal Northern NSW. As a broad finding the report came down heavily against the lack of maintenance for regional roads. There were heavy backlogs in the works and arrears of monumental proportions.
But, in Coffs Harbour, the report gave a clean bill of health. It seems we have no backlogs or no arrears. Think about that for a minute.
I’m willing to bet more than a few ratepayers would beg to differ.
So was the local council very clever? To respond and to give the impression that in Coffs Harbour, the council was ‘on top of things’? Local residents use the roads and many can see this is highly dubious. In other areas of NSW the councils owned up to the NRMA; they reported arrears and backlogs. For their openness and transparency they now look likely to benefit from State Government assistance to rectify the arrears problem.
Councils in the Newcastle and Hunter regions for example owned up to $290m of arrears and are calling for the State Government to allocate up to $180 million per annum for five years to address the situation.
But this will not be the case for Coffs Harbour. Once more Council has looked a gift horse in the mouth. It is far better to slog the residents than to accept help. It is far better to be a stand-alone council and oppose the state government proposal to join with other councils.
Yet by Council’s findings, when they issued the community booklet in 2013 to support the proposed increase in rates, there was a massive backlog. It was $70 million and much of that was was to do with road repair issues. The increase in the rate level was granted and the residents paid more by way of rates. Yet in three years the position has remarkably reversed. The arrears have gone; there is no backlog. What a miracle!
Now any person with an inkling of the maths knows insufficient extra funds have been raised to do this. Not in three years. Yet Council is ‘rolling in money’ if we are to believe them. They push on to promote a new Civic Centre and Council Chambers. $35 million rose to $56 million and then more and not one sod of earth has been turned.
There is an old saying if it sounds too good to be true then it will not be true. Has the Council improved our lot so much in such a short time? Or are they being too clever by half?
Could it be they are hiding the facts; perhaps hiding them under the workload and books of Coastal Works? This “entity” should belong to the people yet it seems to avoid any proper scrutiny. It also seems able to avoid any reporting to local ratepayers.
If Coastal Works was to be asked the same questions as the NRMA asked Council would the answer then be the same?
So when is too clever just too clever?
In a previous life before retirement ‘Cob’ was a specialist auditor for the Federal and state Governments.