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Moira Shire budget attack

Former Moira Shire employee says numbers in draft 2014-15 budget don't stack up.

ROB HENSON May 28, 2014 3:15am

Moira Shire’s finances have been called into question by a former employee who accuses council of misleading its ratepayers over rates and the municipality’s financial health.

Former Moira Shire chief financial officer Adrian Pawar this week circulated an ‘urgent’ email to councillors, local media, Local Government Minister Tim Bull and Local Government Victoria executive director Nick Foa.

It comes after hot debate on council’s draft budget document at public meetings at Numurkah, Nathalia, Cobram and Yarrawonga last week.

Mr Pawar said residents in the shire’s four major towns would be slugged with a 9.55 per cent increase in rates and charges for 2014-15, as opposed to four per cent (varying between rating categories) presented in public meetings.

But Mr Pawar said the ongoing financial health of council was more concerning:

‘‘Insolvent’’ liquidity — he claims council has only 77¢ in assets for every dollar of liability.

An ‘‘unstable’’ financial sustainability ratio — he claims this has worsened by 26 per cent alongside a drop in cash balances by more than a third and data from the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office was deliberately left out of the budget.

Deteriorating year-end cash balances — he claims council may not be able to reach its obligations by the end of the year.

Employed for seven months and resigning late last year, Mr Pawar said: ‘‘I was there, giving report after report about this, nobody wants to listen.’’

He also claims that project grants, provided by the Victorian Government for specific purposes, were being portrayed as open revenue.

He said part of the council’s problems stemmed from overstaffing and over-reliance on external contractors.

‘‘How can the community sit back and say they have to accept increases in rates, while council are not doing anything to address their overheads in a structured manner?’’

Moira Shire Council chief executive Mark Henderson said council had recorded Mr Pawar’s email as a submission on the draft budget.

‘‘We will review it with all the other draft budget submissions and provide a response to correct his interpretation of the draft budget,’’ Mr Henderson said.

He said Mr Pawar’s analysis included some ‘‘very simple errors’’.

‘‘For example the organic waste service charge does not apply to all ratepayers — the service will only be available in the four major centres.

‘‘The project grants received but not used last year appear again in this year’s budget (for example, the Cobram Library) — they cannot and have not been used for other purposes.

‘‘There are also several technical errors, for example: charges to be collected includes provision for supplemental revaluations.

‘‘Materials and consumables are not solely driven by capital works — for example we have grant funding to purchase bins and caddies for the organic waste service and spend considerable funds on road maintenance materials.

‘‘Council’s proposed budget will move council into a much stronger financial position against all VAGO financial indicators including liquidity and enable us to deliver unqualified audit reports each year.

‘‘We acknowledge that the shire has to closely monitor its cash flow and over time will need to move to an operating surplus.’’

Submissions on the Moira budget are open for seven more days, until 5pm, Wednesday June 4.

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