Many of the councils in New South Wales are large organisations, with very large budgets, employing hundreds of people. By reason of their size and budget, a number are included in the top 100 corporations in the State. As required under the Local Government Act 1993, Hawkesbury has adopted corporate management as a means of ensuring the best quality service is provided for the community.
Corporate management is used extensively in the private sector. More recently the public sector has adopted this approach. This corporate approach means that the organisation establishes common goals then works to achieve these goals. Rather than Council Departments or sections working in isolation, all departments work to achieve the one result which, at Hawkesbury, provides the most efficient and effective service for the community.
Council's 12 elected councillors are similar to a Board of Directors with the ratepayers and residents being the shareholders. Under the Local Government Act, councillors cannot act in their own right. Council can only act by collectively voting on resolutions presented at its formal meetings. To provide overall general management of the diverse functions it undertakes, Council employs a General Manager. Assisting the General Manager are three Directors each in charge of specific areas of Council's day to day operations.
The diagram below shows the lines of accountability. Notice that all staff are ultimately accountable through the General Manager to the Council and the Council is accountable to the citizens of Hawkesbury.
Council In Action
Although your 12 councillors are responsible for making decisions for this local area, the Council employs a number of staff to carry out these decisions.
Council staff are not elected and are paid for the jobs they do. Large councils employ many staff to carry out all the activities and services they provide for their local community. Smaller councils, such as in rural areas, may only employ 10-15 staff.
Hawkesbury City Council has a staff of approximately 250 people.
Over 600 Different Types of Job
Many of Council's staff have special qualifications to equip them to carry out duties required by Council in meeting community needs. They have often completed a course at a university or college. Other staff have been trained on the job or have other special skills, such as computer operators, clerical officers, landscape gardeners or construction workers. There are over 600 separate types of jobs available in Local Government
Across Australia, over 140,000 people work for local councils. This accounts for 2.9% of the total workforce.
Because Council staff have specific qualifications they often act as advisers to the councillors on any technical or legal matters. Councillors act in an honorary capacity and need have no specific qualifications to be elected to Council. All that is required is for them to be over 18 years of age, eligible to vote in State and Federal Government elections and enrolled in the local area. Many councillors do have certain qualifications but few would have the full range of knowledge required to cover all the responsibilities of Local Government.
Therefore Council staff have a key role to play in the decision making process by ensuring the councillors are fully briefed on all technical or legal aspects of an issue being debated. Staff provide this information to the councillors in formal reports which are presented at Council meetings for final decision by Council.
During this important decision making process your councillors are simply setting down priorities. To proceed with all projects which have been proposed at the one time would cost the community far too much money.
There are certain things which must be included automatically, such as regular inspection of food handling premises and garbage collection, because these are mandatory under the Act and/or the community would not accept the loss of such a service. However, discretionary projects such as building a new aquatic sports centre may mean that the reconstruction of certain footpaths or the development of a new child care centre cannot be undertaken at the same time. It all boils down to deciding what things have the highest priority.
In deciding priorities, councillors will be seeking out the views of residents and community groups to ensure a final decision reflects what is best for the community. A further major consideration is how much money Council would need to raise to pay for these projects.
How Council Raises Money
Around one quarter of Council's revenue is raised through rates. These are taxes placed on land values. Each year, the owners of houses and other property in the area pay rates to Council.
The amount of rates paid depends on the value of the land. Some organisations do not have to pay rates for their properties, such as churches, charities and the State and Federal Governments. The State Government sets a maximum percentage increase for rates in any year for all councils in New South Wales.
Council also raises money by charging fees for some of the services it provides. Entry to the swimming pools, child care services and dog registrations are just some charges Council uses to raise revenue.
Money also comes to Council by way of grants from the State and Federal Governments. These governments raise a large percentage of the total taxes paid by the community so some is handed over to Local Government to spend in the local area. Sometimes the grants are given for a specific purpose such as to build a child care centre. This money, called a 'tied grant' cannot be used for anything else. Other grants are for general purposes, meaning Council can decide how it wishes to use the money.
Council is able to raise money through borrowing called loans. Such loans enable Council to proceed with projects now and to pay them off over a number of years. However, interest must be paid as well as the original amount borrowed.
Each year, councils must obtain approval from the Minister for Local Government for the loans they wish to take out.
Councils may enter entrepreneurial or business ventures, on their own or in conjunction with the private sector, as a means of raising additional revenue for use on community projects. For example, development of Heritage Park in North Richmond was a major project involving Council, the State Government and the Hanna Match Company. It provides an extensive passive recreation area on the banks of the Hawkesbury River to meet regional, as well as local, recreation needs.
Paying for Council Services
With all our spheres of government, much of the decision making concerns questions about where money should be spent for the general good of the community and the means to raise the necessary finances to carry out the required tasks.
As with the other spheres of government, many of Council's decisions involve this important issue of deciding priorities and allocating resources. With all the facilities and services Council carries out in the local community, Hawkesbury City Council's annual budget is approximately $70 million.
Each year in June, Council sets a budget for the next 12 month period from July to June. While preparing its budget under a system of program budgeting, all ongoing and new projects are fully costed. When all this is done Council decides what will be included in the budget for the next financial year. Some projects will be accepted in full, some in part, some held over to a later time and some will be rejected outright.
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