COMMENT: Council finance debate enters 'unchartered' waters

Bega Valley Shire mayor Sharon Tapscott took advantage of her first time in the chair to remind councillors of their charter and the need to keep debate respectful - although the subsequent discussion on whether councillors should have additional financial briefings appeared anything but, at times.

"It is my intention to ensure that all councillors have the opportunity to speak and represent the different views of the dynamic and vibrant cohorts that make up the Bega Valley Shire," Cr Tapscott said.

"If the language around the debate is kept relevant, respectful and succinct then we can only get a positive outcome.

"It is to this end that I direct you to the councillors charter, which was designed through collaboration with all councillors and subsequently adopted as our vision and mission statement," Cr Tapscott said.

But she said the charter has "not been adhered to in the past".

"I ask that all councillors reacquaint themselves (with it) as this will be the charter by which this chamber will now adhere.

"We do not have to like each other, but the community has elected each one of us and they have the right to see us work respectfully together setting a standard for the whole organisation," Cr Tapscott said.

It did not take long for the old enmities to surface though, as council debated Cr Tapscott's proposal for a monthly update on finances.

What might have seemed like a straightforward proposal for councillors to get a dedicated monthly financial briefing at a time when finances are not in the best possible condition and are subject to the ongoing fallout from the bushfires and COVID-19, quickly became antagonistic.

As a colleague who doesn't watch usually watch council meetings commented: "It just seemed very stand-offish from the outset, rather than being a discussion, it was almost like an argument or a heated debate from the outset."

Another community member, watching for the first time referred to it as a "ship of fools".

Councillors argued over details - was it to be a briefing, a committee, who was to attend, what was the power of the committee, how was it different from current briefings.

Deputy mayor Russell Fitzpatrick supported the proposal, having taken part in regular council finance briefings in the past.

"There's nothing that's binding on council - it's to get more of a handle on things and not be in the position we're in now. There were no surprises when we did this before. We're only just getting the March figures and we're still working off December's (quarterly) figures. We would be up to date on a monthly basis," Cr Fitzpatrick explained.

You would have thought that getting more information is something that is hard to argue against, and yet some councillors did.

Why given the state of council's finances in 2018/19, $14m deficit in the general fund and a further prediction of a deficit for 2019/20, would you not want to know more and be in a position to answer questions from the community about the ongoing ramifications of a budget deficit.

Do some councillors feel they already have all the answers?

On Monday councillors were offered a chance for a zoom meeting with council's finance officer Judy Jordan - but only three of the nine councillors attended.

This story Council finance debate enters 'unchartered' waters first appeared on Merimbula News Weekly.