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.

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.

Fish Tank 2019 now open for budding young Entrepreneurs

Council is fishing for future entrepreneurs.

Fish Tank 2019 could be your (or your sons or daughters) greatest opportunity. Because of the success of Fish Tank 2016 and Change Makers 2018, we are confident that there will be those in our community who will benefit from Fish Tank 2019.

 

Fish Tank 2019

Fish Tank 2019

We are aiming Fish Tank 2019 at our young people. People aged 12 to 25 years and who live, study, work or play in the City of Unley. More appropriately, we are aiming at young people who have a business idea they want to take explore.

By participating in Fish Tank 2019 they could win a prize package that will help grow their business.

Fish Tank 2019 is designed to engage, support, celebrate and invest in Unley’s young people. Designed for those young people who have an entrepreneurial bent. Young people with a business idea.

Participants will have the opportunity to ‘pitch’ their business ideas to a panel of industry judges.

Applications are now open for the opportunity to pitch your business idea to the Fish Tank 2019. By applying you could win a prize package that will help grow your business! Applications close 18 March 2019. Visit www.unley.sa.gov.au/fish-tank to submit your business idea.

 

FREE ENTREPRENEURSHIP WORKSHOP

Saturday 9 March 2019, 1pm – 4pm, Fullarton Park Community Centre.

Learn from business leaders and young entrepreneurs, and develop your own business idea. As noted above, applications are open to all young people aged 12-25 who live, work, study or play in the City of Unley. Registration is essential and should be addressed to Laura De Bono, [email protected] or (08) 8372 5111 by Wednesday 6 March 2019.

 

Visit www.unley.sa.gov.au/fish-tank for terms & conditions, FAQ’s, prize package details and further information. Alternatively please contact Laura De Bono, Community Development Project Officer-Youth at [email protected] or (08) 8372 5111.

Political Ties Part Only of Wider Suite of Council Reforms.

Council reforms are back on the media Agenda. But we need a wider suite of Council reforms.

The Local Government reforms being advocated however are too limited. They are restricted to one issue only, that being Candidates declaring prior to the elections any political ties. We therefore need a wider suite of council reforms

Cr Don Palmer. Providing Local Leadership and Working For You

Such a narrow focus as this does not serve us well. Neither the reputation of local government, nor the opportunity for positive change.

I whole heartedly support such disclosures prior to running for election rather than after the dust has settled. If we want improved Local Government into the future however, we need to be discussing a much wider suite of Council reforms. Reform focused on elected members and more broadly focused industry reforms.

Yes. Reform of Local Government Reform is needed. It will come.

The Industry knows it and is advocating for it. The Government signalled prior to its election that it sees reform in the local government as essential.

The State Opposition prior to Christmas promoted its own reform agenda. And the Independents in the State Parliament are also for change.

Venturing down this road in 2019 (and we should) should see a focus on a wider suite of council reforms however. Wider than has been placed before the public thus far.

At the very least, the following bullet point list needs to included in any reform package.

  1. Election reform should include disclosure of where a candidate lives and prior to the election.
  2. Election reform should also allow all candidates to have digital copies of the electoral roll for their ward.
  3. Likewise, election reform should allow also for digital voting.
  4. Strengthening of the Elected Member Code of Conduct to give it some teeth and legal muscle.
  5. Develop guidelines, procedures and templates to allow the voluntary implementation of the Local Government (Boundary Adjustment) Amendment Act 2017.
  6. Improving performance of Councils and creating best practice by using a more understandable means of bench marking.
  7. Investigating other revenue opportunities to reduce the reliance on rates.
  8. Likewise, to reduce the reliance on rates, improving mandatory revenue options to achieve cost recovery-user pays.
  9. Streamlining the industrial relations processes into an industry standard.
  10. Clean up the auditing processes of Local Government.

I look forward to providing local leadership in the coming months to encouraging this wider suite of council reforms.

Thank You, thank you, thank you.

Thank you to everyone for indicating your confidence, allowing me to continue providing local leadership and working for you. It is heart-warming to receive your support.

More than this though, it is a great responsibility to represent you in local government.

Yes. Thank you.

Thank YouI thank all those who voted for me and those who chose to vote but did not vote for me. You both exercised your right to vote. You also showed your own leadership by accepting the responsibility to vote.

I received 410 of the 1355 votes cast by Clarence Park ratepayers. This is marginally less than what was required for a quota (429) in its own right on 1st preferences. Clarence Park ratepayers voted slightly more than the state average.

I thank also and especially that small band of volunteers who helped me with my campaign. Those who walked the streets for me delivering election flyers. Those also who scrutineer-ed for me. And to those who encouraged me during the process.

As your re-elected member of Council I will be working for all of you, whether you voted for me or not. I will be working for you whether or not you voted.

It is now time for me to celebrate my re-election. I will do this privately in the comfort of my own home and with my family. It won’t be a big celebration though as I reflect and focus on the responsibility you have bestowed on me.

For me, I am preparing my to do list as we speak in readiness to advance your interests in keeping with my many commitments. The commitments announced to you in this forum that have preceded this blog post.

I will post a blog as soon as I am able to report the makeup of the next Council.

Again. Thank You.

Providing Local Leadership: Working for better local government (LGA).

The City of Unley has not taken full advantage of their membership of the Local Government Association (LGA). Many other Councils likewise.

 

LGA LogoThey all willingly take advantage of services such as the discounts available on Insurance or lower finance costs in taking out loans. Likewise, other services such as these are on offer and utilised.

We all also gain a benefit from the significant research and advocacy that the LGA provides. Research and advocacy that Councils individually simply could not afford to do on their own.

Councils who contribute to what to research or what advocacy to undertake are the ones who receive the greatest benefit. By this I mean the LGA will research what the Councils who take an interest ask them to research. Likewise they will undertake advocacy roles asked of them by the majority of Councils. Unley has not recently contributed t this.

Some Councils who also have been inactive here have complained they don’t get the service they should from the LGA. Murmurings similar to this have echoed from time to time in Unley.

I have always been a firm believer that an association is only as good as its membership. Active members make for a strong association. Passive members don’t contribute and this is when a feeling of disassociation occurs. Not because of the executive however but because of the members themselves.

To avoid the City of Unley being caught up in this I have put my hand up to become our representative on the Greater Adelaide Region of Councils (GAROC) Committee. Council has endorsed my nomination.

If elected to this board by the LGA members I need also to look for your endorsement as one of your two local councillors. If you elect someone else, no-one from Unley will be providing local leadership to the LGA.

Written & authorised by Don Palmer, 19 Kelvin Avenue, Clarence Park SA 5034

Externally imposed Rate Capping is Dead

Labor warned us a day ago. They confirmed today that they would join the cross benches and vote the Government’s bill down. Externally imposed rate capping is dead as a result.

 

Rate Capping is DeadSo up go the headlines. Rate capping Dead. No, externally imposed rate capping is dead.

The fact of the matter is, the Government’s Rate Oversight Bill is doomed.  As I have explained before the Government’s bill was not so much about rate capping as it was about an external body setting a cap on council rates.

This is good news for the local government industry. With due respect to ESCOSA, the body earmarked to be the oversee-er, you (the local community) are the best overseer there can be in keeping rates down.

Good news in that the government has never been clear on what how the rates should be capped. We were led to believe by the CPI.

By doing so we were told the average rates would come down $ 500.00 . That claim by Minister Knoll was probably the trigger for the bill’s failure.

If this were true, with 26,000 rate payers, the City of Unley revenue of some $ 40m would reduce by  $ 13m. An extravagant claim by the Government. That Councils are so extravagant they can reduce their rate based revenue by a third. I defy anyone to shave $ 13m of the Unley budget and honestly believe that the Council would survive.

The bill is yet to be voted down in the Parliament however. Until the fat lady sings as it were.

All that aside, it is comforting to hear that the opposition appears to be heeding the call of our Local Government Association’s assessment of how the sector CAN be reformed. The sector can do with reforming. The Government could do well to jump on board and grab the agenda back.

Is the LGA Lunatic Asylum correct in declaring there is no benefit to Councils being a member of the LGA?

As covered in my recent Lunatic Asylum blog post a claim being made by many elected members in the industry. This includes from within Unley Council.

They claim there is no benefit to Councils being a member of the LGA?

LGA LogoCity of Unley logoIndeed, two questions have been asked in our chamber along these very lines. Questions based on there being no benefit to Councils being a member of the LGA.

Answering the first question, to access these services the City of Unley invests $ 55,000.00 per annum.

Our membership entitles Unley of the services of the LGA in both advocacy and assistance.

The LGA is a representative body. Accordingly, it succeeds on the input of its members.  My blog “Are Your Leaders Showing Leadership or Merely Expert Spectators?”examines this observation.

Membership provides us with the following opportunities:

  • For us to share experiences with the wider local government industry;
  • To learn from each other;
  • To work together to find solutions for common obstacles; and
  • Make our work more cost-effective.

This is difficult to monetise. Anyone who is a member of any other association would recognise this. Whether in a sporting club, a social club, or a church, members recognise the need to have an association.

Businesses often ally themselves to an association. Even the trade union movement and all the Unions recognise this through the Council of Trade Unions.

Rate payers fund our membership. Let’s examine some of the benefits.

LGA advocacy is invaluable.

While we may obtain some grant funding by way of direct negotiation, we still need the LGA. We simply do not have the resources to be in continuous dialogue with the State or Federal Government.

We believe we are in the running for some funding for the King William Road redevelopment. Due to the advocacy on the part of the LGA this takes much pressure off the budgeting of this necessary project.

They influenced the implementation of the State’s new planning system.Likewise they provided input into the new Planning and Design Code. This because we we could not have done so on our own with some consistency with other Councils. Consequently, one recent major win here was their successfully obtaining relief for councils from contributing to the SA Planning Portal contributions. Sorry but I can’t remember how much this was but it was significant.

They have made submissions with our input to the State Government on the Community Engagement Charter, Design Code and Accreditation Scheme. Likewise they have advocated on the e-planning portal. This has resulted in a 12-month delay and a saving to councils upwards of $24,000.00.

The LGA provides direct assistance in several key areas.  Thankfully this can be measured financially.

Education and training available through the LGA would cost us at least $ 65,000.00 pa if we were to source like programs ourselves.

Just keeping up with legal changes confronting Councils and delegations and authorisations adds $ 10,000 pa to our costs.

Financial assistance is a major benefit. They provide this by way of low cost loans via their finance arm. As a result they save the 68 councils an average over $100,000.00 pa each. Most noteworthy, some Councils have tested this over time. Their investigations have concluded that the LGAFA to be the best avenue of low cost loans.

Likewise, the workers compensation scheme and the mutual liability scheme save on average across the 68 councils around $ 500,000 each.

This year is an election year. Because of their resources the LGA provides the bulk of the cost of achieving this, saving us around 0.5 FTE and a cost of $ 50,000.00. Especially relevant this is the same as the membership fee.

In conclusion, I suggest anyone suggesting there is no benefit to Councils being a member of the LGA is not demonstrating leadership.