Budget detail kept from councillor

Saskia AdystiAlbany Advertiser
Denmark Shire Council Administration Centre.
Camera IconDenmark Shire Council Administration Centre. Credit: Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

The only councillor who publicly opposed the Shire of Denmark rate increase for 2019-20 says he could not sign off on the budget after being denied access to its details.

Councillor Rob Whooley voted against the budget in July.

The budget, passed seven votes to one, will see residential ratepayers charged a minimum of $1097 on their yearly rates.

Cr Whooley said he was concerned about being denied access to budget information about major projects, wages and salaries.

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“I expect that I should have access to detailed costs before voting on budget proposals,” he said.

“The Local Government Act makes it clear councillors are entitled to details and to be told I need to trust Shire staff misses the point — it’s not about that sort of trust.

“I’ve got a job to do. I would like to be able to look ratepayers in the eye and be confident that costs are reasonable and well defined.

“Ratepayers trust, expect and believe there is independent scrutiny when spending their money and denying details benefits no one. There is no evidence the rate increase is going to infrastructure improvement as claimed.”

Shire of Denmark chief executive Bill Parker said the Shire had been informed it was inappropriate for them to give certain details of the budget to each councillor.

“It is my role under the Local Government Act 1995 to ensure that advice and information is available to the council so that informed decisions can be made,” he said.

“During the preparation of the 2019-20 budget, the Shire provided councillors with information on salaries and wages at a team level.

“The Shire was asked for more detailed information that could identify individual staff member entitlements.

“The Shire has previously acquired external advice on this matter and the advice suggested this level of information was not appropriate and therefore the request was declined — the same outcome prevailed this year.”

The key budget focus was to provide for capital works around the Shire, including $3.5 million for road infrastructure and $1.48 million for land and buildings.

Cr Whooley said he thought there were better ways of dealing with infrastructure improvement.

“Interest rates are at historical lows, borrowing money at low rates and putting that money back into work as a local stimulus is much better than extracting money out of the local economy in higher rates,” he said.

“There’s never been a better time to borrow and councils are always borrowing — why wait until interest rates are 10 per cent?”

Note: Cr Whooley did not speak on behalf of the council in this matter.

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