Mildura Weekly : Friday May 16 2014 Vol 8 No 28
www.milduraweekly.com.au 6 Mildura Weekly – 16/05/14 MILDURA Rural City Council Mayor Glenn Milne has rejected comments made by the author of a 5000-page report examining Council’s financ- es, claiming they were “fundamen- tally and factually incorrect.” La Trobe University business and accounting lecturer, Larry O’Connor, released the report last week which claimed Council was living beyond its means, has debt levels that are too high and over terms that are too long. The report also claimed Council needed to rein in its spending, de- scribing its finances as in a state of distress. Cr Milne hit back a those claims, refuting suggestions Council was living beyond its means and that it was borrowing money to fund shortfalls in its annual operations. He said Council only borrowed funds to fund capital investment or deal with large one-off, unexpected costs and that Council had never borrowed funds to meet an operat- ing shortfall. The Mayor also addressed claims that Council borrowed $4million in June 2013 to fund working capital as it had run down its cash reserves and needed to “stock up” on cash. He said the loan was taken out to pay for Council’s share of an in- dustry-wide superannuation fund shortfall which was both unexpect- ed and outside Council’s control. He said the majority of Victorian councils did the same thing. Cr Milne rejected another claim made over the past week that Coun- cil’s debt ceiling of 40 per- cent of rates revenue would increase by more than 27 percent over the next four years, say- ing this was “greatly overstated” and that it was instead predicted to in- crease by only 17.6 percent. The Mayor said Council had been undertaking a rigorous rev- enue review, including a draft rating strategy, which was endorsed this week, which had provided numer- ous opportunities to be involved. “Apart from the submission of this document, Mr O’Connor has not availed himself to any of these opportunities.” Cr Milne said the report “seemed to lack the usual checks and balances that we would expect from a properly prepared academic report”, claiming there was no peer review, public comment, accredi- tation, governance endorsement and no academic oversight by the university, describing the report as a “lengthy opinion document that makes a number of suggestions without the necessary due diligence required.” “That said, myself and other councillors and Council staff would have been happy to discuss the is- sues we have with the documenta- tion with Mr O’Connor directly, had he afforded us with enough time to carefully consider his com- ments,” the Mayor said. Addressing these claims, Mr O’Connor said his report was subjected to a process of review at various stages throughout its preparation and that standard measures of rigour were observed in relation to the financial model- ling incorporated into the report. He said that he was in a “pro- cess of consultation” with Coun- cil during the preparation of his report, but was “subsequently de- nied this opportunity.” Mr O’Connor said any as- sumptions incorporated into his analysis had been fully disclosed and original data sources includ- ed, enabling the reader to draw their own conclusions. He said all Mildura council- lors had now been provided with a copy of the report and were free to examine it and draw their own conclusions. “In my view, the only poten- tial downside in all this is that the work is dismissed and the findings ignored,” Mr O’Connor said. “I believe that such an outcome would not be in the long-term best interests of the Mildura community. “I have put my own professional integrity on the line in making the work publicly available and I am happy for the work to be subjected to appropriate scrutiny by Council and/or its advisors. The report can stand on its own two feet, however I will defend the report if called upon to do so.” Mayor rejects claims City is under financial distress • RESOLUTE: Mildura Mayor Glenn Milne, and RIGHT, our story from last week. Passenger rail return hoax claim MEMBER for Mildura Peter Crisp this week dismissed claims by the Labor Party that Sunraysia residents were being deceived in relation to the future of passen- ger rail services in the district. The claims by Shadow Minis- ter for Regional and Rural Devel- opment Jacinta Allen were made in the wake of Premier Denis Napthine’s comments at a media conference last week, indicating there wasn’t enough passenger rolling stock for the return of a service to Mildura in the imme- diate future. The comment was seized upon by the Labor Party, which claimed the Mildura community was being deceived given the National Party indicated the up- grade was the first step towards return passenger rail services to the district. Mr Crisp hit back at those comments, saying upgrading and standardising the rail line for freight services was the first priority, and was what had been called for by councils right along the rail line between Mildura and Melbourne. He said upgrading and stan- dardising the line was also a step towards the future return of the passenger rail service, describing Labor’s comments as “a bit rich” given the party hadn’t done any- thing to return the passenger rail service in the 11 years it was in government. The Coalition announced just over a week ago that it would inject $220million into upgrad- ing and standardising the rail line between Mildura and Gee- long.
Friday May 9 2014 Vol 8 No 27
Friday May 23 2014 Vol 8 No 29