Mayoral Annual Report 2013-14Posted Monday 15 September 2014
For many years between 1966 and 2011, coinciding with the then annual election of Mayor and council committees, the Mayor of the day prepared, or at least read, a report on Council’s activities over the previous year. In 2012 this practice was discontinued. However I believe that there is value in an annual review. Accordingly, I plan to restore the practice of an annual Mayoral report and I have prepared this 2014 report for the year 2013-14.
This report has four main parts. The first discusses the importance of local autonomy and democracy and related Council policies and actions. The second part focuses on the importance of inclusiveness in our society and Council’s role in providing social inclusion. Thirdly I highlight some other important ongoing Council activities and services. In the fourth section I acknowledge and thank all the councillors, staff and others who have contributed significantly to our community over the year.
At the heart of local government is the desire of the community, indeed of any community, to have some real control over their lives and their environment. This autonomy and local democracy have been serially threatened in recent years. They have been threatened with amalgamation, threatened by centralised state government planning powers and by private certification empowering developers over the public interest, threatened by allowing large volumes of through traffic on local residential roads and threatened by a lack of consultation between the state and local government as occurred, for example, with the recent State legislation to allow property owners to cut down trees without Council consent. In each of these cases, and in others, local government has been treated like a junior branch of the State Office of Local Government rather than with respect as an equal partner.
I am delighted to say that the state government has, for the present at least, backed away from forced amalgamations which we, along with many other councils, strongly opposed. But it is not clear that the government fully respects local democracy and there is concern that the state government may discriminate financially against communities that continue to prefer independence.
Importantly, the Council has this year completed the majority of work required to strengthen our planning controls in the Local Environmental Plan (LEP) both by tightening up the formal building controls such as the maximum number of storeys, wall and building heights, and minimum landscaping areas, and by strengthening environmental objectives in the LEP that govern treatment of non-complying developments. We have also strongly supported public over private interest in Wyargine reserve and the Marque building at 710 Military Road and most importantly in restating the role of the 2012 LEP controls for Spit Junction. As a resident remarked to me, if 5-6 storeys is good enough for Paris, it is good enough for Mosman. We are also looking to be more proactive in ensuring compliance with development approvals.
Our attempts at minimising through traffic on local streets have been less successful although we did succeed in obtaining a large grant to assist with traffic calming in Beauty Point. Unfortunately the sensible and cost-effective policy of empowering rangers to undertake minor traffic regulation in the interest of local amenity does not have state police support. However we are working both by ourselves and through regional organisations such as SHOROC (the Northern Beaches Councils and Mosman) and through the Sydney Metropolitan Mayors Association to improve dialogue and discussion with the State Government.
Turning to social inclusion, this is surely a critical feature of a happy and harmonious society. However this is also under threat with inequalities in our society and even within Mosman. It is sad, but all too easy to observe, the anger in parts of our society. Some of this is acute anger in response to particular events, often between neighbours. But there is regrettably also much chronic anger.
We in Council do try to work for social inclusiveness in many ways. Both councillors and staff try to respond to resident concerns rapidly and courteously. Council runs extensive services for our residents with disabilities and more generally for senior citizens. For the former group we have nearly completed a comprehensive access strategy to be put on public exhibition. Our more senior residents enjoy a wide array of local programs and services. For both groups we are fortunate to have extensive services provided by many volunteers.
For young parents and their children we run a long day occasional care facility and a much demanded before-and- after school hours’ child care service.
To engage with youth, Council initiated a Youth Forum. The Youth Forum has produced an innovative, cutting-edge blog, designed and written almost entirely by young people accessed via www.mosmanyouth.com.au. This provides much needed youth support services. The Mosman Youth Forum has also launched another first in Australia, Moscard. This youth membership card provides incentives for young people aged 12 – 25 to spend more time in Mosman while promoting participating businesses, events and opportunities directly to youth.
Politics has often been described as the art of compromise. So are good social relations. Over the last 12 months our sports clubs have demonstrated how much more can be achieved in the use of our sporting ovals by cooperation and compromise. Council is currently considering an extensive cycle plan for Mosman to allow cyclists safer use of our roads. This will require compromise by motor vehicle drivers but also cyclist acknowledgment of road and side pavement rules.
Council is considering many other policies and programs. I mention just some of these. Of course our over-arching policy has to be our budget, our expenditure and revenue, which is the engine room of all government. At the start of this council, for 2011-12 we inherited operating expenses of $39.3 million and an operating deficit of $3.0 million. We have held down expenditure increases to 3.3% over the three years to 2014-15 (to $40.6 million) and reduced the forecast operating deficit to just over $0.5m. This was achieved with only a 2.3% increase in rates this year (as prescribed by the State government) and no significant cuts in any services. However it will not be easy to further reduce this operating deficit and we face loss of the 5% Community Environmental Contract levy if we do not apply for its renewal. This will shortly be the subject of public consultation. Suffice to say at this stage Council is working hard on upgrading our internal financial systems and on expenditure control.
Over the last financial year, there has been significant capital investment in our infrastructure assets with the injection of $2 million of low-cost funding sourced through the State Government Local Infrastructure Renewal Scheme. The works include significant road, drainage and footpath renewal works on The Esplanade, Military Road, Bradleys Head Road, Athol Wharf Road, Belmont Road, Musgrave Street, Raglan Street and Parriwi Road. Works were also completed on renewal of the Balmoral Seawall with this Balmoral icon restored to its original beauty with new panelling and a new coat of specialist paint, as well as on restoring the Clem Morath (Balmoral Infants) pool.
Four other programs should be mentioned. Council is currently undertaking a needs analysis to determine what community facilities and services should be provided on the Mosman Civic Centre site and the quality of current assets on the site. The current Council offices are an inefficient and poor use of space and much of the building does not open as it should to Mosman Square. The Square itself is an ad hoc collection of spaces and objects. Library Walk, which is publicly owned, is an inefficient and under-utilised space. In June this year Council engaged architectural consultants HBO+EMTB to assess council needs for the Mosman Civic Centre site located at Spit Junction. This had not previously been done. The consultants are considering the demand for community facilities and services at the site; the adequacy of current building stock to meet these needs; and short and long term options for services on the site including upgrade and rebuild options. The aim is to develop informed options of varying scope for public consultation in the near future.
Car parking is a related issue around the Civic Centre site and indeed from Spit Junction through to Mosman Junction. Our consultants, Parking and Traffic Consultants, have now completed a survey of community views on parking issues. This process is intended to encourage informed and mature debate about options for dealing with an important present and future problem for our community. The aim is to develop a range of options from doing nothing, to stronger parking management regulations to encourage turnover, and built solutions along with possible related funding options including parking charges for public discussion and to develop a parking strategy by early next year.
Turning to visual amenity, we are fortunate to live in a naturally beautiful environment. But we often clutter up our roads and parks with a proliferation of clashing and ugly signage. Council is undertaking a complete audit of signs in public places and is identifying numerous signs that can be removed. Recently we have identified over 70 signs for removal around Balmoral. Council is also in the process of developing a generic colour combination and style for our signs.
Promoting a culture of service delivery to the community and to individual members of the community remains a top priority for us. There is always much to be done in this area and in the year ahead there will be a focus on improving customer experience. Work has commenced on benchmarking and improving the physical layout of the customer service counter in the Council entrance area and it is proposed to purchase software to assist with triaging customer enquiries and enabling the collection of service data.
Clearly all the work that I have described is a team effort with numerous contributors, including councillors, staff and members of our community. I thank especially the Deputy Mayor, Cr Roy Bendall, for his work in the audit committee, for his tireless support of our residents and for the generous way in which he gives up his own time to represent council at many functions. I thank Cr Tom Sherlock for his considerable and valuable expertise and time on planning issues, waste practices, active transport and all matters environmental. I thank Cr Libby Moline for her work on the Library and Arts and Culture Committee and for the many occasions in which she has represented Council over the past year including in Mudanjiang, China, as leader of our delegation there. Cr Carolyn Corrigan is our leading Councillor on social issues and has played a key role in the development of our Youth Forum and the work of the access and disability committee. Cr Peter White has been our key Councillor on the Traffic Committee and had the onerous responsibility of dealing with all the Beauty Point traffic problems. He has probably enjoyed his time on the Arts and Culture Committee more. Cr Simon Menzies has contributed many ideas to Council discussions.
Council is particularly fortunate with both our senior officers and with our staff throughout the organisation. Our new General Manager, Veronica Lee, has been dynamic, innovative and provided a great service example to the rest of the staff. We are also extremely fortunate in our three Directors, Max Glyde (Corporate Services), Di Lawrence (Community Development) and Craig Covich (Environment and Planning). The services they give to me, other Councillors and above all to the public are exemplary.
The General Manager and Directors are ably supported by a number of specialist managers. They are all experts in their field and they work very hard, often above what would be expected to meet the needs of our community. In many ways local government is a 24/7 business and our Managers are highly conscientious in support of the many after-hours community events and activities.
For instance I would like to acknowledge the work of some of our front line managers such as John Cheeseman for managing our award-winning Art Gallery, Linda Horswell and Jill Cuthbert who manage our Library, which lent some 370,000 items to residents over the past year, and Niki Atmore, our Community Services Manager, who manages our many services to our children, our youth, and our many senior residents.
It is a privilege to be a Councillor on any council. We in Mosman are also fortunate to live in an especially beautiful area. With this fortune, we have a responsibility to preserve and enhance (where we can) our built and natural environment, both for our residents and for those resident elsewhere, both for current and for future generations.
In my inaugural Mayoral Minute two years ago, I said that my aim as Mayor was to provide the community with an inclusive, friendly and professional service and to build a supportive, tolerant and creative community that will enhance the lives of all who live within our community. I am sure that other councillors and staff support these aims and we will continue to strive to provide an inclusive, friendly and professional service over the next two years.