Dick Persson AM
Last week the Manly Daily gave coverage to my report to the last Council meeting about the priority areas to receive funding from the Merger Savings Fund.
Regular readers of this column may recall I decided to quarantine the clearly identifiable savings from the merger and place them into a Merger Savings Fund . These funds will be available in perpetuity and will be indexed to maintain their real value over time. They will be spent on community projects intended to provide residents an annual indirect dividend from the merger.
The current priorities are environment, youth, events, and arts and culture. Of course there will be considerable overlap and the current financial year will see the allocation of $4.4m spent on these priority areas.
Having identified the broad areas we are now seeking to work with the community to identify what you would like to see happen within these broad categories.
It has been clear over a long period that there is strong support for well-planned community events. Recent examples are the Taste of Manly in the former Manly, Brookie Show in the former Warringah and Pittwater Food and Wine in the former Pittwater. We are committed to strong community consultation, and use a variety of engagement techniques. With the Events Strategy that we are in the process of developing, we are holding workshops, phone interviews and have an online survey, as well as undertaking face to face discussions with the community. The event survey is on the Councilâs Your Say page, and will help us understand your views and priorities in terms of future events. If you are not familiar with this feature of our website, I would encourage you to visit yoursay.northernbeaches.nsw.gov.au and take a look, even if you are not interested in this particular initiative.
The first workshop will be held in the North Curl Curl Creative Space, from 6-8pm on Thursday 20 July (rsvp by Tuesday 18 July). The second will be held on Tuesday 15 August in the Mona Vale Conference Room, also between 6-8pm (rsvp by Sunday 6 August). A light meal will be provided at the beginning.
If you are interested in having a say in how your new Council operates, please take this chance to get involved. If you have not previously done so, maybe this is an easy one to get you started, by completing the on-line survey and becoming familiar with the handy Your Say tool.
Iâve mentioned in recent columns that the internal work to produce one, smoothly operating organisation is proceeding well. This week another major milestone was reached as we switched on our new integrated technology platform.
I know some readers may switch off here but this is really very important if we are to deliver your services seamlessly and efficiently. For example, your correspondence will be turned around faster because there will be fewer steps for our staff as they gather the necessary information to respond to your enquiries.Â
Internally it means all staff are now operating on the one system. This will save staff time and bring about efficiencies in areas like asset maintenance and ranger services. I expect this will result in higher job satisfaction and improved performance across the entire organisation.
This week also marked another major organisational ânew beginningâ, as 1 July saw the introduction of the new structure and the announcement of the results of the merit-based selection process for the final group of managers and supervisors.
While this takes just three lines to write, it involved thousands of hours of interviews for well over a hundred staff. This work has been overseen by our CEO Mark Ferguson but I have kept a close interest in the process. I can assure readers we have assembled as strong a team as any local government in Australia, with the highest levels of expertise across all levels of operation, whether it is environmental, customer service, waste management, planning, park management, compliance, childrenâs services, library services, beach services, events management, transport, property and community engagement to name just a few.
I sometimes hear people ask âwhat do I get for my rates?â. While the above is not a complete list of all we do, it certainly should satisfy any ratepayers asking the above question.
In summary, the work of merging the three former Councils is rapidly nearing completion. When the newly elected Council takes over in September, I have no doubt they will be impressed with the quality of the organisation they will inherit.
Dick Persson AM
I suspect many voters from the former Manly and Warringah Councils will be surprised when they go to vote on September 9 that they will not be able to vote for the Mayor directly.Â
Both Councils have had this right since they voted for it in referendums in 1995 and 2008 respectively. The former Pittwater Council never had a popularly elected Mayor, preferring the model where the Mayor is elected every year by the other elected Councillors.
The Government proclamation for the Northern Beaches Council sets up the model of a Councillor elected Mayor. So the September election will see the election of 15 Councillors, three from each of five wards, and those 15 will then choose the Mayor and Deputy Mayor at the first meeting of the new Council on 26 September.
A good number of residents from the former Manly and Warringah areas have approached me to request that I consider adding a referendum to the September ballot. Under that scenario, if the majority of voters supported moving to a popularly elected Mayor, it would be introduced four years later, rather than seven years later if it is left to the newly elected Council to take the question to the people.
For me this was not so much about which is the best model, but more about who should make the decision to give the people the choice and whether it would be a divisive issue at a time when people are still âfinding their wayâ with one larger Council.
I consulted widely, particularly with people knowledgeable about the implications of the Local Government Act. There is no doubt that as Administrator I have the authority to make the decision to put on a referendum on this matter. I have decided however, that given this issue will be hotly debated, it would be better left to the elected body.
The other factor in my thinking is that having worked hard over the last 15 months to bring the three communities together, it would not be helpful to bring forward an issue that could dominate the election and divide the community.
Dick Persson AM
A highlight of the week was opening the Northern Beaches Girls Get Active Day, organised by Sport NSW and Council.
Council recently became one of the first local government members of the Girls Get Active program which is designed to encourage young women to explore all the sporting opportunities available to them.
There were around 100 girls from four local schools participating. They heard from six elite sportswomen who represent at State and National levels in a range of sports â hockey, netball, cricket, rugby union, surf lifesaving and football.
It was a great success and our sportswomen inspired our next generation of sporting participants. Council plays a huge role in enabling girls and boys, men and women to get active â an increasingly important role helping people keep healthy especially with growing childhood and adult obesity.
An example is the new PCYC that will be opening its doors next week in Dee Why. This fabulous new facility built by Council will provide for social, sporting, cultural and recreational activities for future generations to come.
Councilâs commitment to improving sporting facilities is evident with almost $7.6M allocated to sportsgrounds improvements in the Draft Budget and Operational Plan for the next financial year. This includes works for new synthetic pitches at Cromer Park and Lionel Watts and other upgrades at Forestville and Warriewood.
Council will undertake infrastructure improvements for sporting and surf lifesaving clubs to increase accessibility, participation and inclusiveness. There is also funding for sportsfield renewal, sport buildings works and sports club capital assistance programs.
Letâs not forget the spectacular coastal walkway and cycleway from Palm Beach to Manly. There is also extensive investment in our playgrounds with two major new inclusive playgrounds at Manly Dam and Lionel Watts Reserve and we're looking at 40 playgrounds to ensure we create fun, safe and accessible playgrounds for everyone.
Council will continue to listen to the community and I encourage people to get involved.
Every job has its challenges. A major challenge in every job is communication.Â
As Council Administrator I am constantly frustrated by the difficulty in getting out key messages to Northern Beaches residents.Â
For example I am still receiving emails about the sportsground study from people who have clearly not read any of the information that Council has provided to assist in informing this important community discussion.
Obviously, this weekly column is one of my most effective vehicles for getting my message to a large number of residents. A few weeks ago I arranged for the same message to be sent to those who subscribe to Councilâs e-newsletter to try and broaden its reach.
I also face the dilemma that if I try and correct every error in letters to the editor or in media reporting it comes across as very defensive. So I rarely do.
Today I am making an exception to correct the record in regard to last weekendâs newspaper and TV reporting of the results of a survey comparing community views of the performance of merged and unmerged councils.
Clearly this issue is very important, both for the residents and the 1800 staff who are working so hard to provide excellent services.
The survey referred to was carried out only four to five months after the mergers.
The media reports claimed that merged councils were three points behind non-merged councils in a number of the areas measured. No mention was made that this was within the âmargin of errorâ for surveys and was therefore pretty much meaningless.
The results reported were ârolled upâ averages. So when you look at the actual figures for the Northern Beaches Council (NBC) and compare them to the non-merged council average you see a very different picture:
OVERALL PERFORMANCE OF NBC: 65
OVERALL PERFORMANCE FOR NON-MERGED COUNCILS: 58
This clear eight point advantage over the long established councils came after only four to five months of operation for the newly merged council. This story was accurately reported by the Manly Daily months ago.
I have no doubt we have improved since then and I thank our dedicated council staff for their hard work and initiative to deliver such a strong result.
We know that we have further improvements to go and we will continue to strive for excellence.
Dick Persson AM
I thought it best to give sporting fields and golf courses a rest for a few weeks and focus on some positive news about cultural facilities on the Northern Beaches.
Yesterday I had the great pleasure and honour of officially opening the new Library at Belrose, adjacent to the much-loved Glen Street Theatre.
Moving the Library from its previous site to the new space was part of the previous Warringah Councilâs clever plan to create a cultural hub at Belrose. In acknowledgement of the leadership and drive to create the project, I invited former Warringah Mayor, Michael Regan to act as the Master of Ceremonies for the occasion.
The idea of bringing together the Library and the Theatre into the one space is inspired. It will create a cultural hub that will bring benefits to both institutions, as well as to the many thousands of residents who will visit the precinct to visit the Library or attend a function or show.
I suspect many readers may not often visit this area, but I want to stress how impressed everyone who attended the official opening was with this modern, state-of-the-art Library. It is a beautiful design, both inside and out. It will provide the most up-to-date systems and equipment, at the same time as allowing easy interaction with the always-helpful Library staff.
I encourage readers to pay a visit, and better still, attend a show at Glen Street Theatre. I suspect many residents, especially those from the previous Manly and Pittwater Councils have yet to do so. You wonât be disappointed.
One piece of information provided in my speaking notes for the official opening really surprised me. The Northern Beaches Council has around 174,300 members of its six libraries. Iâm not sure how this compares with other areas, but I suspect it is at the high end of the list.
Clearly we love our libraries and we now have a brand new facility at Belrose called Glen Street Library, that everyone who visits will enjoy.
Congratulations to all involved in envisioning, designing, building and of course staffing this wonderful new cultural asset for the Northern Beaches community.
Dick Persson AM
Next Tuesday nightâs Council meeting (6.30pm Civic Centre, Dee Why) will have another full agenda dealing with a wide range of important matters.
One unusual item will canvass the issue of what the Council can do to assist residents in dealing with ticks. Most Northern Beaches residents are acutely aware of the problem because of the quite serious consequences of âtick biteâ for themselves, their children/grandchildren and dogs.
I was quite surprised at how much the problem seems to have grown since I left my stint as Administrator of Warringah Council in 2008. Recognising that the issue affected residents across the whole area of the new Council, I raised the question last year of what the new Council might do to try and assist in some way.
I was hoping initially that a significant Council grant may be useful in encouraging the development of tick eradication measures. Regrettably this idea didnât travel very far because of the complexity of managing ticks across our diverse local environment. It seems we are destined to have to learn to live with ticks for at least the foreseeable future.Â
We can however make a contribution to closing the gap in our knowledge of tick management. To that end I have been convinced that funding a three-year partnership with a university to research how to better manage the risk of tick encounter and how to better deal with tick bites will be worthwhile.
Given that this issue affects such a large percentage of the Northern Beaches Council area, it is a good project to fund from the Councilâs Merger Savings Fund. Hopefully the findings and outputs from this project will benefit all our residents.
So at next Tuesdayâs Council meeting I will deal with a report recommending the funding of a PhD research project involving $75,000 over the next three years.
Given that so many residents deal with tick bites now, I have arranged for the Council to provide links on our website to connect people with the best health advice available. I expect this to be available in the near future.
The Council meeting will also deal with the Draft 15 year Sportsground Strategy for the Northern Beaches Council. It is proposed that this Draft Strategy will be placed on exhibition for a further 28 days. The Council paper reports on the extensive community engagement undertaken over the last two months and proposes a way forward for the incoming elected Council.
This year, each Council meeting has been watched by between 160 and 260 people. If you canât make it to a meeting you can view it online.
Dick Persson AM
I suspect many readers shared my dismay at the images revealed through the media last week of literally millions of items of plastic waste covering the once pristine shores of a very remote Pacific Island.
Public awareness of the extent of plastic pollution in our oceans has been rising slowly over recent years. If you are not aware of the extent, just put âplastic and ocean pollutionâ in a search engine. There are many, many stories and images showing the extent of this emerging crisis.
While the visual images are shocking on their own, even more shocking is the scientific evidence about micro-plastic particles entering the food chain. We are at risk of consuming them through the seafood and salt we eat, and the consequential heath risks are really very serious.
This issue is slowly, but steadily emerging on the National and State political agenda. Draft legislation to stop supermarkets and other retailers using plastic shopping bags is being developed in a number of States. The recent community engagement forums run by the Northern Beaches Council as part of the preparation of our first Community Strategic Plan have also affirmed the very high community importance placed on preserving our environment. A key question confronting us is, âwhat can we do at both the Council and individual levelâ?
I believe the community expects Council to be a leader, both in our operations as a business and also engaging and supporting community action.
What can individuals do? Well a good start is to make a family commitment to start trying to reduce their use. Buying non-plastic shopping bags for the supermarket shop is a great start. I did this earlier this year and have only forgotten to take them with me once. If you need ideas, our sustainability team and waste education team provide fantastic events, workshops and talks for individuals, households and businesses.
Iâve heard calls to ban plastic bags. Iâd like to go further â to set a stretch target as a community to wipe out single use plastics from the Northern Beaches. Itâs a very ambitious goal, but one I believe is much easier to deliver as one Council. It would have been a nonsense for an individual Council on the Northern Beaches to do this without a unified approach.
With this opportunity in mind, I will be calling for Council to take the lead and develop a plan to both reduce its own plastic consumption (especially through the eradication of single use products) and support the community and business in further reducing theirs. I will also propose that Council further funds community initiatives designed to change behaviours to provide the support needed by grassroots groups in tackling wicked environmental problems.
Maybe we could achieve National best practice for a local council!
Dick Persson AM
Our amazing culture of volunteerism is one of the things that defines Australia. Many think what we have is just ânormalâ and exists in all other countries. Well it doesnât. It is difficult to back up this claim, it is a view shared by all who travel widely and deal with the not-for-profit sector internationally.
I was delighted to be invited as Guest of Honour to last weekâs opening of the Northern Beaches Volunteer Expo, a major initiative for National Volunteer Week. The Expo was officially opened by Gemma Rygate, CEO of the Centre for Volunteering.
In discussions with Gemma, she affirmed my view that Northern Beaches residents were at the âtop of the treeâ in terms of commitment to volunteering, both in terms of the number of people involved, and the span of the activities. The Expo highlighted this with 37 community groups having stalls, with volunteers offering encouragement and information to the hundreds of people who came along to learn more. Hopefully many decided to become involved in one or more of the worthwhile causes needing fresh legs to provide the assistance so many need and appreciate.
I take this opportunity to thank the many thousands of Northern Beaches volunteers for what you are giving back and to encourage others who may have the time to become involved. If you would like more information please contact the Councilâs Volunteer Coordinator at 9976 1556.
It was a year ago that I received a call from then Premier, Mike Baird, offering me the role of Administrator of a new Northern Beaches Council. I considered it an honour to be asked by the Premier to implement one of his âriskiestâ policies in his own electorate. I also was genuinely excited by the opportunity to âcome backâ, at least in part, to the area and community I had grown so fond of during my six years as Administrator of Warringah Council.
I am pleased to report that after 12 months, your new Council is well on track to complete the complex and challenging task of truly becoming one organisation. I am confident all major organisational features of merging three organisations will be completed by the time you go to the polls on Saturday 9 September. Yes itâs only four months away.
I want to also publicly thank the hundreds of staff who have worked above and beyond to make it a success.
Dick Persson AM
A special Council meeting was held last Wednesday evening to consider the Draft Budget and Operational Plan for 2017/18. These documents are now out on exhibition until Sunday 4 June.
One issue that will cause considerable disappointment is the proposed 9.4% rate increase for former Warringah residents. When the State Government announced
the council amalgamations in May last year, the Minister said there would be no rate increases for four years. This claim was not the complete story.
The statement should have said there will be no new increases, apart from those already determined by the Independent Pricing Regulatory and Tribunal (IPART),
or those brought about by changes in property valuation.
In 2014 IPART increased the Warringah rates over a four year period by 3.1%, 3%, 3% and 9.4%. The first 3 years were seen as inflation adjustments, the fourth
(the 9.4%) was to allow the Council to maintain its services. IPART considered the independent polling and determined that while the community did not favour
a larger rise to increase service levels, it did determine the above increases to maintain existing services. IPARTâs process is rigorous and they only make
determinations for above inflation increases where it is clearly warranted and community support is established.
There will be no further rate increases allowed for at least the next three years, and the forward projections outlined in the Draft Budget indicate a strong position for the next 10 years.
Another NSW Government decision, to require fire service levies to be collected through Council rating systems instead of through private insurance premiums, has
also required a new property valuation. As with the last one, this will see Councilâs overall rate revenue stay the same but will see some rates increase and some decrease, depending on the extent of the valuation change.
The Draft Budget includes many positive proposals, such as the record $114m capital works budget, but it is impossible to cover the detail in this column. I would urge residents interested in their Council to visit Council's website and look at the material and make a submission if appropriate.
Dick Persson AM