A REPORT will provide more detailed financial information about Port Macquarie-Hastings Council's contributions as a part of its membership to the Mid North Coast Joint Organisation (MNCJO).
The MNCJO comprises Port Macquarie, Kempsey and Bellingen councils who work collaboratively on broader high priority projects with the state government's support to deliver outcomes for the Mid North Coast region.
Council has a three year contract with the MNCJO and has just contributed its share to the organisation for the next financial year.
Cr Rob Turner, after much debate, moved for CEO Dr Clare Allen to come back to council in October with information on council's financial arrangements with the MNCJO and the mechanism by which the organisation can request funding from council.
Cr Turner said the MNCJO had the potential to become a "lame duck". He said while it has delivered successfully by sourcing funding on some significant regional projects, it does demand more accountability.
I think the risk is unless the state government gets its act together and makes it compulsory for all the councils in our area to be a part of it, and funds it correctly, it's going to be a lame duck.Cr Rob Turner
Dr Allen reported that since its inception, the MNCJO has attracted $1,198,608 in grant funding. This includes funds from the Bushfire Community Recovery and Resilience Program (IRCC - $225,635) and the Increasing Resilience to Climate Change Program ($73,000), both of which have a regional focus.
"I think the idea of the JO has been a very vexed one. We've got a system that's not compulsory, we don't have Coffs Harbour in it, we don't have Nambucca Council. It's quite dysfunctional geographically," Cr Turner said.
"I think the risk is, unless the state government gets its act together and makes it compulsory for all the councils in our area to be a part of it and funds it correctly, it's going to be a lame duck."
Cr Turner said there are projects delivered by the MNCJO that should be congratulated, but the funding sourced for those projects could have been directed to individual councils if the state government wished.
"They could have also been funded through MIDROC, which is what happened in the past. It was much more successful, a more collaborative organisation that all councils were part of, not just a select few.
"There's no accountability at the moment from the JO back to council and I think that any funding request in the future needs to enable councillors to make a decision based on what the JO is going to do with that money.
"It's been hit and miss up until now. We've had some wins, but we've had a long period of time with nothing. It doesn't need to be a bottomless pit of funding just for a talk fest. It needs to have a purpose and at the moment it's very vague as to what the purpose is.
"I think we need some more detailed financial information. The financial information that we've got shows Port Macquarie and Kempsey councils have contributed $110,000 in the last financial year, and are due to contribute the same in the next financial year...we need to get clarification on that.
"In the scheme of things, it's not massive amounts of money but we've got to get the system right otherwise it could be big amounts of money down the track, and there could be some issues around accountability and value for money for our community."
Mayor Peta Pinson, who has been a member of the MNCJO since its inception in 2018, said the organisation - despite the fact all councils in the region are not participating - has achieved some significant milestones including the funding for the renewal of timber bridges across the Mid North Coast.
"We are the smallest JO and it's not through lack of trying to entice our council friends further north of us," Cr Pinson said.
"It's been a decision of their councils not to involve themselves - that being Nambucca and Coffs Harbour. That has not stopped all the achievements....the largest one being a $52 million grant for renewing timber bridges.
"In regions like ours, that's a mammoth amount of money and makes an extraordinary difference to people who have to traverse timber bridges every single day."
The mayor told Cr Turner she was "disappointed" he had not attended a JO meeting but could still "cast aspersions" on the role it plays.
The MNCJO is funded until 2024 which includes projected council contributions.
"I just think it's incumbent on us as councillors to do the right thing by the community," Cr Turner argued.
"If we haven't got detailed financial information from the MNCJO that aligns with council resolutions and council financial information it's up to us to ensure it does. Unless we get this right, and the process right, we open ourselves up into the future for simply no accountability to the community, which is what our job is."
We weren't elected and are not accountable to our community for the JO. We are accountable to our community for our local government areaCr Geoff Hawkins
Deputy mayor Lisa Intemann encouraged non-participating councils to join the MNCJO to make it more viable and attract more state government funding support for its ongoing management. She praised the work done on the timber bridges and koala biodiversity programs.
"I definitely support it and the excellent work that has been done. It's a very good organisation that is working well, but that said, I have no objection to us deferring this for more detailed financial information on the contributions by local councils," she said.
Crs Peter Alley and Geoff Hawkins agreed.
"I've always found this a very vexed issue. We weren't elected and are not accountable to our community for the JO. We are accountable to our community for our local government area," Cr Hawkins said.
"The whole construction of it, let alone the funding of it, has troubled me from the beginning. Having said all that, the JO has some achievements. It's imperfect from a governance point of view, but the question is do we persevere with it and try and make it work? Investigating further options financially is a good thing."
What has the JO achieved?
- Completion of the 'Why Local Government Matters' research;
- Delivery of key outcomes of the Hastings Macleay Koala Recovery Partnership which has involved koala monitoring (through the use of 'audio moth' technology and specially bred dogs); koala habitat assessment; engagement with landholders and programs in schools.
- Sponsorship of a Disaster Preparedness Officer to provide advice and support to councils and to local communities in response to recent weather events (bushfire, drought and flooding);
- Engagement of consultants to explore opportunities to engage in a Biodiversity Stewardship Project and to assess the viability of entering the Carbon Market
- Establishment of a 'Resilience Partnership' with Charles Sturt University and the local community which links University study to the development of resilience projects in the local community;
- Submission of a regional response to the government's commitment to a road re-classification process that includes the handover of regional roads back to the State Government;
- Securing funding to purchase a Simtable for use by councils and the local community which can be used to simulate the impact of serious weather events on local communities;
- Development of a bridge prospectus;
- Provision of an over-arching submission to TfNSW to promote JO engagement in the delivery of a significant program of works under the Fixing Country Bridges Program;
- Engagement in a Climate Change Risk Readiness Program which includes participation by Port Macquarie Hastings and Kempsey Shire Councils;
- Building strong relationships with key agencies to facilitate delivery of services to local communities including TfNSW; Regional NSW, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment; Local Government NSW; the Office of Local Government; the Auditor- General; Regional Development Australia, Local Government Procurement; Local Land Services.
In April, the MNCJO board and associate members held a planning workshop to review the organisation's strategic priorities.
The workshop was facilitated by Professor Roberta Ryan, from the University of Newcastle and focused on the current status of identified priorities, actions and activities; possible future priorities; consideration of what has been working well and consideration of challenges facing the on-going sustainability of the MNCJO.
"The MNCJO has been a strong advocate for the community across the region and has been successful in attracting a significant amount of funding from the NSW government," Dr Allen said.
"It is expected that administration contributions from these applications will contribute to the on-going operation of the MNCJO however, additional funding will be required in the medium to longer term to ensure the on-going sustainability of the JO.
"The MNCJO will be sustainable if resources are available to enable the continuation of a high level of service to local communities and if member councils continue to see value in the role of the MNCJO itself, including in relation to advocacy."
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