Minutes of the Berry Forum Meeting
Held 7 December 2023 7.30pm at the Uniting Church Hall

Present: 43 people attended, including Councillors Mathew Norris, Tonia Gray, John Wells, Patricia White

Welcome and IntroductionIn Hendry (Chair)
Minutes of the meeting held on 14 September 2023: Approved

Proposed increase in rates (Stuart Coughlan)
Council’s forecast for its General Fund this year is an operating deficit of $28m. The net operating position has deteriorated since 2019, with deficits forecast to average $25 million from 2024/25.

Findings of AEC Independent Report

  • Maintenance of assets is heavilyreactive,
  • Council’s asset management approach appears to be immature and requires improvement.

Key Information Missing from the AEC Report

  • The NSW public service salary cap increases of 2.5% pa would have resulted in a maximum cumulative increase of $5m or 8% over the last 3 years since 2019/20.
  • However, Council’s annual personnel costs actually increased by$22m over the three years – an increase of 33% (from $66.4m to $88.5m).
  • Yet the additional $17m pa is not explained and historic headcount numbers are not provided. It is inconceivable that these critical factors were not addressed in the AEC Report.
  • Councillors John Wells and Patricia White advised the Forum meeting that over the last two years they have requested personnel cost and headcount information from the CEO on behalf of the community, but it has not been provided.
  • Attendees at the meeting were concerned that the CEO’s performance is not assessed against any measurable performance criteria, including timely provision of information to councillors.

Efficiency target proposed by Council management
During the next 4 years, to find annual savings of $3m”.

  • This target is equivalent to just2% of total operating costs.
  • Given Council’s annual staff attrition rate of 15% and the balooning operating costs, a headcount freeze is essential, with the justification to fill vacant positions to be critically assessed.

CEO’s Recent Message in the draft Long Term Financial Plan
“Best practice financial management systems and practices will be maintained to enable timely and accurate recognition and reporting of performance issues”

  • It is very difficult to reconcile this statement with themultitude of findings in the AEC Report that refer to the absence of basic financial management disciplines across Council.
  • The withholding of critical information relating to personnel costs and headcount growth from councillors would also prevent timely recogntion of financial performance issues.

Planning Updates

  • Work on the DCP for Berry is commencing and Locale consultants will undertake the community consultation phase. The first of two surveys will soon go on Council’s Get Involved webpage.
  • The assessment of the Berry Hotel DA will not be completed this year. The independent planner will review the record number of 370 submissions.

Meeting Closed 8.40 pm      Next Forum Meeting: 7 March