Priorities questioned: Lismore City Council Chambers in Goonellabah.
Priorities questioned: Lismore City Council Chambers in Goonellabah. Jay Cronan

Council's overblown fleet exposed

LISMORE City Council will spend $4.39 million next financial year on new utes, tractors and bulldozers, raising questions from a number of councillors about the priorities of the cash-strapped council.

Over the next four years this figure will total a staggering $15.9 million.

This does not include the cost of leasing the large number of cars that are part of many of the council staffs’ salary packages.

Council finance manager Rino Santin yesterday said he could not provide details of the cost of providing the staff cars, which included petrol.

However, he did confirm Lismore council provides vehicles to 53 staff – about 20 more than those provided by comparable councils such as Ballina and Dubbo, which have roughly the same number of staff.

“You really have to question why we have 53 staff cars,” Councillor Vanessa Ekins said.

“A lot of them drive out of the shire every night so we are subsidising staff to live on the coast.”

Cr Ekins recently submitted a motion to be included in the council business papers regarding the cost of providing so many cars.

However, within hours of submitting it, she said she was asked by staff to withdraw the motion.

“They asked me to withdraw it because the council was getting a lot of flack over the special rate variation and morale was low and they didn’t want any more bad publicity,” she said.

Cr Ekins agreed to the request, on the condition a workshop be held to examine the issue. That will be held next Tuesday.

She said according to detailed budget papers that were not publicly available, the cost of fuel for these vehicles, as well as the heavy duty trucks, had almost doubled this year to $2.3 million, compared with $1.2 million two years ago.

Mr Santin said this was due to increased council works, not the number of staff cars.

Without providing figures, he said the cost of running staff cars had fallen after a recent decision to encourage those with the cars to opt for four-cylinder vehicles, rather than the six-cylinder models.

When the issue of spending $4.3 million on vehicles next year was questioned by a number of councillors at a special budget workshop last week, they said they would prefer to defer the expenditure for at least a year rather than cut back on services.

“I have been raising questions about this for quite some time. At least now there is a bit more support from other councillors,” Cr Ekins said.

“What we were questioning is when we are in a situation where we are asking the community to pay more for rates and are cutting back in our community services program, why are we considering purchasing so many more vehicles?”

Mr Santin said on Friday a report on the issue would be delivered to councillors this week.

Money for the $4.3 million Plant Replacement Program theoretically comes from the Plant Reserve, which is generated by ‘hiring out’ the equipment to other departments.

However, the reserve recently had to be topped up with a $3 million bank loan after it was raided to pay for a failed attempt at land speculation by a previous council.

The proposed budget will go on public display for community comment before it is finalised at a special council meeting on June 9.

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