Noosa Council chambers as the budget time draws nearer.
Noosa Council chambers as the budget time draws nearer.

Too busy with the business of surviving to consult right now

ONE likely immediate victim impacted by the coronavirus pandemic in Noosa is the council’s plan to consult with local community and business groups when preparing the next budget.

A report by corporate services director Michael Shave to go before council on Tuesday is seeking councillor approval to postpone this extra layer of council transparency to the 2021/22 budget.

This push for public input into the budget preparations came via a mayoral minute from former council head Tony Wellington last November before he lost office to Clare Stewart.

The previous Noosa Council sought to have a public consultation when preparing the coming budget but the pandemic has shut the process down.
The previous Noosa Council sought to have a public consultation when preparing the coming budget but the pandemic has shut the process down.

“The proposal outlined the need for increased public sector transparency and that one way to engender both trust and awareness of the cost of council’s many services and activities is to allow community members to scrutinise and make comment upon the budget during the deliberation period,” Mr Shave said in his report.

The aim is to “help deliver a greater understanding about budgetary trade-offs and decisions, performance challenges, new rates or levies, and financial sustainability requirements, with council being able to take into consideration well-informed recommendations from its community”.

This trial was to have included a two-part public consultation process involving community groups and incorporated associations on a new body to be called the Community Representative Budget Reference Group.

The previous council noted that any budget decisions could only be made as a resolution of council as part of the budget adoption process but that community input into this process will be valuable for councillors.

Noosa council candidate Tony Wellington.
Noosa council candidate Tony Wellington.

Mr Shave said following through with this process has been impacted by the disruptions of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Unfortunately the momentum of the project was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the redirection of staff focus and resources to deal with the immediate impacts of the crisis on council and the community, including local businesses,” Mr Shave said.

He said given community and business stakeholder groups were individually dealing with the crisis, “which has been changing on a weekly basis”, the timing of consultation process was considered impractical.

COVID-19 also impacted on the "ability to hold any reference group meetings due to social distancing measures and likely challenges implementing a technology solution in the required time frame”.

“Further urgent analysis has also been required to understand the financial sustainability implications on council from the pandemic, for the remainder of the 2019/20 financial year and the 2020/21 budget and forward estimates contained in the 10-year financial plan,” Mr Shave said.

“This work has been essential in developing a financial recovery plan and to reset normal business as usual decision-making processes regarding the development of the annual budget, which normally includes targeting an operating surplus position.

“It is proposed however that as business as usual returns to the organisation, businesses, and the general community over the coming months, the trial can recommence for the 2021/22 budget process,” Mr Shave said.