Serious Local Government Reform

Serious Local Government Reform is about to commence with an inquiry into local government costs and efficiency.

The State Government has asked the South Australian Productivity Commission to investigate local government. They have asked them to examine the trends in council costs and the efficiency and the drivers behind these trends. In order to get it right, they will consult local government and other key stakeholders.

This is all good news for me as I indicated in my blog back on May 24.

The LGA is seeking feedback from member councils to inform a sector-wide submission. Therefore, they will be hosting a workshop session with the Productivity Commission.

On your behalf, I intend to attend this session. As a result, I expect to get a good understanding of the approach they will be taking.

The inquiry will examine trends in the costs of local government and the drivers of these costs. It will also develop and analyse measures of efficiency resulting from the trends they have discovered. Likewise, it will identify ways that might be used by councils to measure and improve performance.

The exercise will result in the Commission providing advice and recommendations on options for improving efficiency in local government operations.

Council Rates AnalysisAs the table shows, your rates have increased well ahead of the CPI. They have also risen in excess of the LGPI (Local Government Price Index).

The Commission will identify the drivers of the increase in your rates.

This may include changes to the scope of services provided by councils. It will also identify changes in the environment within which councils operate. Likewise it will reveal ratepayer preferences for greater levels of service.

A final report is expected to be ready for submitting to the Parliament by November this year. I look forward to the results of this serious approach to Serious Local Government Reform.

A rate rise of 2.1% is set to be approved by the City of Unley

The City of Unley will approve their 2019-20 budget at this month’s formal Council meeting. I expect us to approve a rate rise of 2.1% at this meeting.

A 2.9% increase would have applied under the Government’s proposed rate capping. This demonstrates, with many councils following our example, that councils are responsible and able to manage their financial affairs.

In theory therefore the rates you pay will increase likewise by 2.1%.

Changes in property values, if consistent across a local government area, do not change what council rates you pay. It is therefore incorrect to say an across the board increase in property values means Council makes a killing.

If you have read my last blog post however, you will know that this year changes in property values however will be erratic to say the  least. This means some of us will pay more, some less.

Two factors influence the calculation of the rates you pay. The budget set by Council and the capital value of the property you own, as set by the Valuer General.

The process of assessing rates for an oncoming year commences with Council setting their budget. The valuer general then advises council what they have calculated is the total value of all rate-able properties in the council area.

The budget is then divided by the total property value to strike what we call “the rate in the $”. In my time on Council, this “rate in the $” has gone down each year.

When the value of your property (as valued by the Valuer General) moves at the same rate as the collective or total then your rates will increase by the amount of the budget increase set by council. If the value of your property increases less than the collective, your rates will increase by less than council’s budget increase. Likewise, if it escalates above the collective, then your increase will exceed the council budget increase.

Hopefully you appreciate a rate rise of 2.1%, and the services they provide you.

Valuer General to cause stress to rate payers in Unley

Many City of Unley rate payers will be distressed when they receive their first rates notice for 2019-20.

 

Office of the Valuer-General

Office of the Valuer-General

Not I must say because of anything Council has or has not done. Their grief will be due to changes to the way their properties are valued by the Valuer General.

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While Council looks set to strike a 2.1% increase, the rates you pay may not reflect this. Changes in property values could show a different picture. We could see rates increase or decrease by up to 50% and more.

In other words, changes both ways. Significant changes.

Yes. There will be winners and losers. Some rate payers will be paying more than they traditionally have. Some significantly more.

Others, on the other hand, will be paying less. Some significantly less.

I expect Council will wear the brunt of any anger that may occur. This, even though the Valuer General is accepting the responsibility.

You will be receiving the rates notice from us. You must pay us. Many don’t recognise the value of your property is not set by Council, but by the Valuer General.

Concerned about the significance of the changes, the Valuer General briefed Council last week.

The Valuer General have advised they will be writing to all those property owners whose valuation will increase by 15% or more. There will be many however under this threshold that won’t know until they receive their first rates notice.

This is all (would you believe) due to an attempt to make the valuation of properties fairer. The Valuer General is changing how they calculate the property value. Factors not previously considered will now be used when assessing a property’s value.

These changes will affect mainly commercial properties, not residential properties. I expect therefore that changes in residential property rates thankfully will be minimal.

A fairer system of valuation that will not be seen that way this year.

Ombudsman Code of Conduct Concerns focuses on the trivial not serious.

The State Ombudsman, Wayne Lines, has spoken up this week on a topic that goes to the heart of one of the central reasons for Local Government reform. His code of conduct concerns is one area that the Local Government Industry is pushing hard to see changed.

 

We need tougher sanctions against those who are guilty of serious breeches. More on that however in a later blog post.

His code of conduct concerns however is asking Councils to stop the silliness. To stop making claims of a trivial nature.

Wayne Lines-OmbudsmanIn recent history there have been many reports of elected members making frivolous claims against one another. This brings the industry into disrepute. These claims take up the resources of the Ombudsman. His time can be better spent on the more serious. The ICAC likewise.

Trouble is the Act requires members to lay claims against others they believe to be contravening the Act. Failure to so do can cause a claim being made against them.

Not long after the Office of Public Integrity was formed, I remember him saying to a group of councillors that he has no interest in pursuing such. Legal advice however has interpreted the law literally. Ever since the industry and the ICAC have been calling for changes.

Here at the City of Unley we hopefully have a mature and adult approach to elected member behaviour. The current Council is working through a charter of behaviour that we will all sign up to when complete.

The Governments proposed probe through the Productivity Commissioner into local government should look into this.

New probe into council spending to push reforms

New probe into council spending to push reforms is the headline today in the IN Daily on line news. This spells the next chapter in the push for Local Government Reform.

 

Having failed in its attempt to cap council rates, the Government is now promoting they intend  to establish new probe into council spending to push reforms by the state’s Productivity Commission. This is good news in my opinion.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall and Transport Minister Stephen Knoll (AAP Image/Kelly Barnes)

I welcome this move as a construction move. I expect the local government industry will too. Certainly, the article indicates the LGA president (Sam Telfer) is in support. We will no doubt discuss this among ourselves in the next short period of time.

Investigating what is a myriad of differences in what the various councils do and how the fund them is the right approach to reform. This will definitely be of benefit to the local government industry.

Each council should eagerly participate in this exercise. They should also be eager to see the results. Such an exercise would help in our efforts to gauge our performance against other councils.

We often try to compare ourselves to other councils. We do so as a guide to how well we may or may not be performing. That has always proved most difficult. It is because of the differences between us in how we go about things. Likewise in how we fund them. Furthermore, it is how we record them.

I would expect your elected representatives will be better informed in decision making. Our administration likewise will have more confidence with what they may put before the elected members. The big benefit will be yours however.  You can then better value what your Council is doing for you compared to what others are doing for their communities.

Done right and down well however will take some significant resources. I expect it will take some serious time too.

King William Road is 2.5 times over budget – That is news to me.

The recent headlines in the Advertiser and now the Eastern Courier that King William Road is 2.5 times over budget has shocked me. It is news to me.

King-William-Road-Concept-IllustrationAny suggestion that King William Road is 2.5 times over budget is completely wrong. It continues the agenda they (the media) have set for years now that it (King William Road) is all about pavers v bitumen.

Our Mayor and our CEO have sent a letter to the editor to set the record straight. Hopefully we will see a retraction in upcoming editions.

Mind you, such inaccuracies really should not shock me. There are times, as I have previously blogged, when I wonder if I would know more about the inner workings of Council by:

  1. not participating in the decisions of council and,
  2. simply reading the printed news.

This is another case that prompts this thinking.

The media is reporting that our original budget to upgrade the high street section of King William Road was $ 6.0 m. The final cost of $ 15.5 m calculates at 2.58 times.

We have never had a budget of $ 6.0 m for the high street redevelopment. Never.

Our budget was closer to $ 10.0 m. Added to this there will be ‘budgeted for’ work being done that is being bought forward. Works too, in conjunction with SA Water, that will surely be preferable now rather than later. These extra works has lifted our budget, including a contingency sum to cover the unforeseeables, to $ 15.5 m

The contract we have let for the project is a smidgen under $ 12.0 m. It takes into consideration the programming of works to avoid as much as possible interfering with our traders, and their need to continue business while work proceeds.

City of Unley about to be replacing 2,585 lights across the City.

Have you ever Replaced a Light Globe?

We are about to be replacing 2,585 lights across the City of Unley. So please spare a thought for Council.

 

In an endeavour to be 76% more energy efficient we will be replacing 2,585 lights in all our streets.  Work is scheduled to be completed in June.

Goodwood Road by night

Goodwood Road by night

These new street lights will also increase lighting quality. More light will be directed toward the ground where it is needed instead of into the sky, or adjacent homes.

SA Power Network, the distribution company that owns the lighting infrastructure, has approved the lighting system. We have tested the lights to ensure they meet relevant Australian Standards in regards to safety and light levels.

Trial results have demonstrated that they have superior performance to the existing lights. To sum up, the new lights have:

  • Greater uniformity of light across and along the street;
  • Better “colour rendering” and visibility; and
  • Less depreciation of the light output over time

They have a reported life of 20 years.

98% of the old lights will be recycled. This will be achieved by:

  • Recycling the glass into products such as glass wool insulation for homes;
  • Distilling and reusing the mercury in the dental industry to manufacture amalgam; and
  • Reusing the aluminium body and other fixed components (for example, steel screws and copper wires) as ingyots used in industry.

Finally, local company Gerard Industries have manufactured the lights. That is to say, we are supporting a South Australian business.

Keep your eye out for your street as we start replacing 2,585 lights across the City.

The State Government holds the key to Tree Canopy Cover Targets

The City of Unley has long believed the State Government holds the key to Tree Canopy Cover Targets.

 

More to the point the key to tree canopy cover targets lies in the Government’s new DPI Act. This is the new new Act governing development in South Australia.

Thankfully the Government (through the State Planning Commission) has responded positively to our request for them to mandate a minimum 15% tree canopy coverage on all sites with new development. They are prepared to sit down and discuss this with us.

Unley Heat MapThe previous Unley Council held strong and positive views of saving our trees. There can be no doubt the current Council also holds this view. From memory, in our respective election campaigns, we all included trees in our platform.

It is not however just about preserving our trees. It goes further. We do need to increase our tree canopy cover targets.

We are doing our bit on the land we have control over. As you will see shortly when we ask you to look at our proposed budget, we are looking to significantly increase tree plantings in the public domain.

Unfortunately this will exacerbate the recent losses we have experienced in the short term, as I noted in my loss of canopy cover blog of June last year. Long term though, it will improve the canopy cover.

The public domain however, the area Council has direct control over, accounts for only 16% of our City.  Keswick Barracks has 4%. The remaining 80% lies in the control of our private property owners . Our rate payers.

This is where the Government comes in. For us to achieve the canopy cover goals set by them in their 30 year plan, they need to recognise where the focus needs to be.

Council can’t achieve a 30% coverage, even if they planted 100% of the area they control. There has to be controls set on private land, the land controlled by our rate payers.

I am therefore gratified they (the State Government) are prepared to sit and talk with us.

Heritage at Risk, or is it?

Heritage at Risk, or is it? That is the question I am asking on the back of this weeks media coverage of the State Planning Commission recent announcement.

 

Media coverage suggests that 12,000 homes across Adelaide could lose their status. Contributory items that is, could lose their status. Thankfully, State Heritage places and Areas, along with Local Heritage places appear to be safe. Heritage Conservation Zones would be at risk. So too would Unley’s Streetscape Zones.

Such a change will go down like a lead balloon in the inner suburban areas. Unley included. Many a conversation I have had with our rate payers confirm a fury over the possibility of us losing our heritage conservation and streetscape zones.

I am seeing a different storey. In short, the State Planning Commission has invited us to prove the case for retention of our various zones. To clarify, in their letter inviting us they are saying they will be receptive to our response.

Commission InviteIn that letter Mayors, Chief Executives and Elected Members have been invited to one of three sessions the Commission will hold on the transition. Transition, not removal.

We (Council) have the opportunity to ensure the zones are not lost. They are asking us to promote “why” we would transfer our zones into what is described as new layers in the new Planning & Design Code.

new layers

 

The fight not over. It is there to be won. That said, there is much work to be done.

We need (on mass) attend the workshops put on by the Commission. Accordingly, I personally have booked in to one on the 30th of this month.

We (Council) then must in within the time frames indicated by the Commission implement a DPA aimed at protecting our “character” homes. We will need to be diligent. You (our community) will need likewise to be diligent.

Make no mistake. If we don’t join forces and provide compelling evidence for retention of our current zones then our share of those 12,000 homes may well be at risk.

 

King William Road Contract let

After years of investigation, research, design, community consultation and deliberation work will commence this month on King William Road. With the King William Road Contract let, we can now see it all come to fruition.

Following unanimous approval at last Monday’s council meeting we have awarded a contract. Accordingly, we have engaged civil contractor, BMD Constructions Pty Ltd.

BMD Constructions is an award-winning construction company. They have delivered a portfolio of high-profile community upgrades in the South Australian market. Projects that include the recent Henley Square and the current Gawler Place upgrades.

King William RoadThe aim of the project is to return King William Road to its pre-eminent position amongst Adelaide’s premier main street retail precincts. This will lead, as I have said in previous blog posts, to make it Adelaide’s most loved main street.

It has been a long time coming. We have spent much time listening to traders and community members. Building on this and with the King William Road Contract let to BMD and their proposed construction methodology, we should see minimal community and trader disruption. Both BMD and Council are committed to ensuring the dialogue will continue.

In so doing, we expect the construction process will achieve a respectful balance between

  1. the access required for construction and the need for ongoing community and,
  2. traffic access and strong trading in the popular precinct.

Early works associated with the upgrade of the Park/ Mitchell Street intersection have already commenced. So too, investigation works to enable the relocation of an SA Water pipe. Once complete, the major Construction work will commence. This is set to commence this month.

The project will also establish a more active destination for our community. A destination where we can meet and congregate. A destination with shade, trees and infrastructure to support flexible outdoor dining and community events and activations.

For more information about the King William Road redevelopment, please visit designkingwilliam.com

Can’t wait to see the final product.