I have four children. The eldest will be eligible for her L plates next year (very scary). She has already started planning for her car, working weekends and making reasonable money but burning a hole in her pocket as soon as she gets it. Her dream car would take another 10 years of work – and that is if she didn’t spend another cent. You might describe her as having champagne tastes on a pauper’s budget. My second eldest is a couple of years younger and has also started talking about a car. Her attitude to money is a little different. Not only does she still have the first cent she ever earned, she has the interest on the first cent she ever earned. Her target first car is more realistic and she has calculated how she will save enough money by the time she is able to drive.

My question is this: when my first child inevitably asks me to fund the purchase of her car, what do I do? Do I reward poor planning and frivolous spending and buy her a car? If so, what about my second daughter? Do I tell her that she doesn’t need my money because she has saved enough, or do I reward her for her forward thinking and planning? Essentially, do I reward poor behaviour or good behaviour?

These are tough decisions at a family level, but what about when you start looking at the bigger picture. How do these same decisions translate to a city or a state?

Councils receive requests to help fund a variety of activities almost every single day. Various groups and individuals see a Council as an organisation with a big bank balance, therefore it seems reasonable to ask for some of that. Our Council has just given away a combined $10,000 to 14 organisations as part of our Community Financial Assistance Program. Not everyone that applied for a grant was successful and the vast majority of recipients had made significant efforts on their own, typically needing just a small additional sum to complete a project or enhance a venture. If an organisation applied for funds and had made no effort themselves, then very likely they wouldn’t have received any funds.

Take this to the next step: what should Dubbo City Council do when it comes to state or federal grant money? Should we sit back and wait for our City’s infrastructure to crumble and hope to be ‘bailed-out’ by the state government, or should we continue with normal planning processes and providing for the future residents of Dubbo – but funding it ourselves? Initially, the first option can look attractive. Reduce rates, let our theatre and cultural centre deteriorate; let the weeds overtake our parks and let our roads turn into suspension test-beds. Maybe our residents would complain loud enough to the state government that it would be compelled inject some serious dollars into our community and fix all our problems. If you are happy to tolerate the poor infrastructure for a number of years, it sounds like a cheap way to run a city.

I hate to burst the bubble of cheaper rates for everyone, but it simply doesn’t work like that. A state government – just like our Council and my family situation – is very unlikely to reward poor planning with financial incentives. The reverse is true. Some grants we  received lately illustrate this point quite well. In our first application for funding for the Barden Park athletics facility, we failed to receive any money at all. In the debrief process, we were informed that the federal government was much more likely to fund projects where they were funding closer to 50 per cent of the overall project rather than 100 per cent. Our first application to its Regional Development Australia (RDA) und asked for 96 per cent of the funding. That was a major reason for the rejection. During Round 2 applications we asked for $3.47 million from the federal government’s RDA fund, $1.255 million from the state government and said Council would contribute $575,000. Essentially this reduced RDA funding from 96 percent to 65 per cent. This application was successful. It seemed we were rewarded for finding contributions from other areas.

If you look across the state, it is hard to find an area where poor planning or financial negligence has been rewarded by a cash injection. The Glasshouse project in Port Macquarie was originally expected to cost the Council $7.3 million. By 2007 a public inquiry was ordered as the full liability to Council was estimated to be more than $66 million. Once the results of the inquiry were given to the Minister, the Council was sacked and steps were taken to address the $7.1 million deficit it faced in 2008-09, including making 27 staff redundant. Notice no mention of a government financial rescue package.

Cobar Shire Council has applied to IPART for a massive 25 per cent rate increase to allow it to continue to operate the swimming pool, youth centre, library and aged-care facility. Making a request of this magnitude did not come lightly and was driven by severe financial need. Again no mention of a rescue package.

When the poor state of roads at Somersby on the Central Coast led to the unfortunate death of five people in 2007 after a road collapsed, the coroner’s findings made a clear recommendation that the Gosford City Council asset maintenance regime be reviewed, including responding to risks identified. No money was handed from the state government to implement this improvement process.

In short, I believe Dubbo City Council needs to have our destiny in our hands. Waiting around and hoping for government grants is a very pessimistic way to run a Council. Don’t get me wrong – I think it is important to actively pursue grant funding when the opportunity presents itself, but it is important to plan for our future. We have a great track record of securing grant monies, with around 50 percent of grant applications being successful, and in recent years less than half our income has come from rates.

Let me know how old you think my daughter will be before she owns her dream car at mayor@dubbo.nsw.gov.au.

Clr Mathew Dickerson

Mayor of the City of Dubbo



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