Core business tricky

THE issue of local government finances – or lack of – has raised its head again this week, with calls for local governments to stop funding non-core business areas and focus their spending on traditional areas, such as roads.

Byron councillor Ross Tucker likened his council’s finances to “a boat about to go over Niagara Falls” because it had taken on responsibilities outside its core business area.

He said because councils had no way of raising money outside of rates, councillors had to learn to say ‘no’ to requests for money.

Clarence Valley Council’s general manager Stuart McPherson conceded councils had, over the years, taken on responsibilities once the province of state and federal governments.

He said councils were now responsible for things such as administering crown reserves and financing the State Emergency Service – things they weren’t previously responsible for.

“Legislation in 1966 and 1967 (also) gave local government the responsibility for the companion animals management and public cemeteries management,” Mr McPherson said.

“We’re (also) now involved in food premises licencing; entertainment premises licencing; and involved with policing the BASIX stuff – that is, ensuring buildings comply with national standards that relate to environmental factors.”

Mr McPherson said one of the biggest problems facing councils was defining ‘core areas’.

“For each person who defines it, there will be a different set of conclusions,” he said.

“For lots of reasons – some of which might be the momentum of the past involvement or that councils still think it’s a worthwhile thing to be involved in – the council continues on with those areas.

Some areas, such as the SES, are now enshrined in legislation, so it’s no longer an option to opt out.”

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