Murray River Council has adopted its draft 2023/24 Operational Plan and Budget, which includes a $33.98 million capital works program.
Council is now calling for public feedback on the draft document, along with the draft Long-Term Financial Strategy, draft Revenue Policy and draft Schedule of Fees.
Murray River Council Mayor, Chris Bilkey said it is a carefully considered budget as council continues with service level reviews to pursue internal savings.
“Revenue streams are becoming tighter, so in developing this budget we’ve had to work on balancing community aspirations and needs with the financial resources available.”
“We are also continuing to investigate asset rationalisation, service delivery and resourcing to ensure we are operating as economically as possible.”
“It’s always tricky, but we are confident that this budget strikes a balance between fulfilling existing levels of service, continuing delivery of some community projects and remaining flexible enough to move with our Infrastructure Program as flood repair works continue to be approved and funded,” he said.
The 23/24 draft budget estimates an operating revenue of $71.2 million and operating expenses of $67.3 million for the coming year.
Of the $33.9 million capital works program, $9.5 million will come from Council operations and reserves, $13.5 million from capital grants and contributions and $1.5 million from loan borrowings.
$3.6 million is allocated to the Regional and Local Road Repair Program which will largely cover flood repair works. Council will continue to seek approval for NSW Natural Disaster Recovery funding to cover additional flood restoration works, which will cost in the vicinity of $25 million.
The draft budget is based on a total rate revenue increase of 4.10% in general rates, which is in line with the rate cap set by the Independent Pricing & Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).
Council’s CEO, Terry Dodds said the revenue streams for the coming year continue to see several limitations and challenges.
“At a time when inflation is circa 8%, the rate cap places significant constraints on the revenue raising capability of Council.”
“Every year inflation is much higher than the rates cap forced on councils, and initially this made councils become leaner, which was a good thing originally. As could be expected though, there is a limit to how many services can be sustained over time with continual shortfalls.”
“Additionally, as legislation grows, so too does the range and scope of services we are expected to provide under cost shifting exercises driven by the State.”
“With rates that are used to fund most of our services being pegged, our core services and financial sustainability is at risk.”
“This means we will need to continue with service reviews in this coming year and have conversations around rationalisation of assets to further improve the council’s operating performance ratio over the longer term,” he said.
Whilst service reviews will continue into the 2023/24 year, some of the larger areas of committed capital spend include:
• Moama Preschool Development $5,657,469
• Regional & Local Road Repair Program $3,617,772
• Plant Replacement Program $2,500,000
• Roads to Recovery Program $2,150,000
• Waste 10Yr Capex Program - Year 2 Activities $1,897,000
• TechnologyOne Implementation – Phase 2 $1,617,250
• Kyalite Road Widening $1,600,000
• Regional Roads Reseals Program $1,000,000
• Regional Roads Repair Program $900,000
• Moama Riverside Raw Water Intake improve safety access $801,130
• Road Resheeting Program $800,000
Materials and contracts expenses have spiked this year due to one-off projects, including the Murray Irrigation Bridge Load Assessments. This cross-municipality project contributes to $2,850,387 of operational spend for the 2023/24 year but will be completely funded by Restart NSW upon completion of the works.
There is also an estimated increase in general materials of $726,000 due to inflation, however council has continued to seek savings in this area where possible.
“We’ve kept our materials and contracts spend to the bare minimum as part of our ongoing review to achieve further savings,” Cr Bilkey said.
“We have already seen some reduction in costs over the long-term estimates this current financial year, so this has again been built into the budget as we seek to reduce operational expenditure to help to improve financial sustainability.”
“But I’d encourage the community to take a look through the draft documents and let us know if we’ve got it right,” Cr Bilkey said.
Murray River Council’s draft budget documents are available for public comment until Thursday 8 June and can be viewed online at yoursay.murrayriver.nsw.gov.au
Following the exhibition period, a meeting of council will be held at the end of June to consider any submissions prior to formally adopting the budget.