Naracoorte Lucindale Council releases draft budget despite councillor reluctance

Naracoorte Lucindale Council’s draft budget has been released despite the reluctance of some elected members.

The 2017-18 draft budget was discussed at a special council meeting on Tuesday night, where some councillors complained that they hadn’t had enough time to consider it – one commenting that he felt like a “rubber stamp”.

The elected members received their draft budget document from director of corporate services Fiona Stringer the previous night.

Cr Ken Schultz was the first to speak against releasing the budget for public consultation so soon, arguing that it felt too rushed.

He asked: “Why is it necessary that this goes straight out to the public? I think a lot of work needs to go into it.”

Mrs Stringer explained that due process had been followed, with meetings and workshops to discuss the draft budget occurring as far back as February.

“We follow the same program every year,” she said.

She said the draft budget needed to be approved at that meeting, because there was a “very tight timeframe”, including 21 days for public consultation before the budget could be progressed to the next stage.

The basic format was that the draft was finalised and released to the public in May, public input was gathered and considered at a meeting in June, the document was reviewed by the audit committee, and then the final product would be approved by council at its June monthly meeting.

Cr Craig McGuire agreed that there hadn’t been enough time for councillors to review the draft before releasing it to the public.

“To receive this information last night, I haven’t even read it. To be given to us 24 hours beforehand is not good enough.

“I'd encourage members not to vote on anything tonight.”

Cr McGuire said elected members had been asked in recent times to “be respectful” and make sure they gave a lot more notice of motions or questions they wanted to put at council meetings so staff had time to prepare.

“That should be reciprocated from you guys.”

This is what I’ve said before – we just get treated as a rubber stamp

Cr Ken Schultz

Mrs Stringer apologised for not getting the document to the members earlier and said she had planned to, but “sometimes life happens”.

She made the point that this wasn’t the last chance in the process for the council to make changes to the draft.

Cr McGuire responded: “I know that but we needed to have a say before we put it out to consultation. It’s too rushed, it puts us at a disadvantage as elected members. I don’t even know what’s in there.”

Cr Tom Dennis agreed and said the majority of elected members were still in the workforce and needed more time to be able to look over important documents.

Cr Ken Schultz said: “This is what I’ve said before – we just get treated as a rubber stamp.”

CEO Helen Macdonald angrily fired back: “I’m going to take absolute exception to that – I do not treat you as rubber stampers.”

Ms Macdonald went on to explain that the staff went further than their requirements to provide detailed information to elected members on each aspect of the budget, for their own benefit. Because of that, it sometimes took longer to prepare information.

“We don’t have to share all the details, because that’s my responsibility, but we do,” she said.

Cr Dennis said: “I don’t agree with the ‘rubber stamping’ (label), but if you look at it in isolation, there’s not enough time for such a large document and we’re about to put it out to the community.”

Cr Julie Earl asked if Mrs Stringer could walk elected members through each line of the budget so they could make changes along the way before it was released for consultation at the end of the meeting.

Mayor Erika Vickery said yes, that could occur if the meeting moved into a workshop situation.

Councillors voted to move into a workshop and they spent about 90 minutes working through the document. They suggested very few changes.

At the end of the discussion, a majority of councillors voted to release the document to the public. Crs Schultz and Malcolm McLean voted against releasing it, but didn’t specify why.