Monthly words of wisdom from our head honcho and a look at our future direction

June: Taking action on the road to recovery

Last month I wrote about the importance of hope following the devastating flood our region has experienced.

Hope is important to set the tone and attitude as we move forward but by itself it will not restore communities, help businesses back on their feet and rebuild our economy.

What we need to add to hope is action and I’d like to outline a few practical steps that we as a council are taking.

We are working through our own insurance claims and natural disaster fund applications to ensure that we are able to claim all we are entitled to and reduce the impact on our ratepayers. To date we have spent about $2.7 million and our expected costs are in the region of $40 million.

We are working with Roads and Maritime Services and the Department of Public Works to assess and determine our road network restoration works. This will take many months to work through as we will be required to get geotechnical investigations in some cases, get the works designed and issue tenders for the work.

We are collaborating with various agencies to do a post-flood community needs assessment to determine what the short and medium term housing and mental health needs are.

Together with the Lismore Chamber of Commerce & Industry and others we are working with the business community to better understand the impacts of the flood on local businesses and what exactly is required to provide support for them going forward.

International research indicates that up to 43% of businesses closed as a result of a natural disaster never reopen and of those that do 28% fail within two years.

We do not want our businesses to continue that trend and part of our strategy will be marketing and promotion, showcasing those businesses that have reopened and more.

We have put an extra $100,000 over two years in our upcoming budgets for dedicated CBD support and have applied for various grants as well.

At our 13 June meeting, Council will consider the distribution of over $250,000 raised through the Lismore Flood Appeal to nearly 400 applicants.

This month is jam packed with events such as the Australian Little League Baseball Championships, The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show, the Lismore Aviation Expo, Lismore Lantern Parade, Friendship Festival, Stocktake Sale and more.

These events serve to lift the spirits of our community but they also send a message to the people outside Lismore that we are open for business and bring visitors from all around the country to spend money in local businesses.

We are also participating in debriefings with various agencies such as the SES, NSW Police, Fire & Rescue, RFS and others. It is standard practice for events such as these to debrief and learn the lessons and put measures in place to improve for next time.

We have also said thank you to our staff, the SES, Police, RFS and Fire & Rescue as well as the many volunteers who assisted the community during this event.

Councils have traditionally been all about the three Rs – roads, rates and rubbish.

This event has demonstrated Response, Recovery and Resilience along with recognising the importance of Relationships and Resourcefulness.

C’mon everybody – let’s Restart the Heart!


Time for change... a broader overview of our future as an organisation

Lismore City Council has a great motto: “Am baile nach teid air agaidh, theid e air ais.”

This is Gaelic for “He who does not progress retrogresses” – a sentiment I couldn’t agree with more. For me, the status quo is not an option. We cannot sit still for if we do the world will pass us by and we will go backward. We need to constantly examine what we are doing and see if there is a different way.

This means change. Change is inevitable. Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who lived from 535BC to 475BC, recognised this when he said, “There is nothing permanent except change.”

Changes are taking place at Lismore City Council in response to Imagine Lismore, our community strategic plan. Personally, I feel incredibly proud of what we have achieved with Imagine Lismore.

Imagine Lismore was the largest community consultation in Council’s 134-year history. Over 18 months thousands of residents were asked to identify their priorities. Feedback from the Imagine Lismore process was hugely positive and we are ready to let go of the traditional approach of deciding what our community wants for them. Our new focus is to listen, work together and deliver.

Now we have a 10-year plan and a clear direction we need to follow. We have to change to achieve those goals.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to control the future is to create it.” In a similar vein, by creating and controlling our own change, we ensure that the change is considered, measured and in line with what our community wants.

Here is a summary of how we must and will change in the next 10 years.

Asset renewal and maintenance

Council needs to redirect a total of $7.3 million each year into renewing and maintaining assets into the future. We will fix roads and improve wastewater infrastructure to cope with a growing population. Over the next decade Council will take responsible action and find the resources we need to address a legacy of asset neglect.

Our assets are our most pressing concern but we know residents need more than just bricks and mortar to make a community great. They also need us to govern well and they need a vibrant community, good economy and healthy environment. Getting this balance right is our challenge.

Delivering the Imagine Lismore vision

Council will spend almost half a million dollars on projects that progress the Imagine Lismore vision in our first year (2013/14) and this will increase each year over the next decade. The first year includes improvements to the CBD and funding our new partnering projects. More money will be allocated in future years. Many of Council’s current projects have been re-shaped to specifically align with the community’s vision and these will continue.

The community also told us they want Council to engage and communicate better. We have a new fortnightly newsletter, Local Matters, which is delivered to homes and available on line, a new website and we’ve joined social media.

We understand you want to know what’s going on in your local Council and everything we do, you have a right to know and get involved in the local democratic process when and if you so desire.

Community partnerships

We have developed a Partnering Strategy that includes 23 different projects with more than 49 partners including government and non-government agencies. We know we need to do more with less. We also know that a small amount of money can go a long way when we have community support and participation. This is how we can achieve great things in the future.

In addition to these projects, Council will move toward a model of community-based panels to engage the community and seek collaboration in improving where we live. The model represents a new way of Council doing business. We will help provide funds, guidance and facilitation to implement the priorities of each small community within our LGA.

These community panels will be place-based as we know that what people want in urban Lismore is very different to what people want at The Channon. The community panels will enable Council to begin tailoring projects to community wishes so our unique places grow in the style and character that people desire.

Getting our own house in order

Council recognises that in order to find savings for asset management and community projects, we need to do better. We need to find efficiencies within Council that improve productivity and ensure we are getting the biggest bang for our ratepayer buck. We cannot raise revenue and ask the community to collaborate with us without challenging ourselves to lead by example. We need to ensure we have an adequate skills base in our organisation and implement the Australian Business Excellence Framework. We need to maximise our output with our limited resources.

Being financially responsible

We are working toward financial sustainability over the next 10 years through Zero Based Budgeting and a Service Level Review. We need to look closely at where every dollar is spent and align our budget with the Imagine Lismore vision. We also need to be realistic about our ability to provide services. We are now reviewing and prioritising where services are most needed. As an example, we closed our CBD office. While we would have loved to keep it open, the costs were high and in the end we knew the money could be better spent somewhere else.

Of course, for me personally, affecting change also means making decisions because they are the right decisions to make, even if they are tough or seem ambitious. That is why, along with the Imagine Lismore plans (which were adopted in 2013) I have set three challenges for the organisation over the next 10 years.

These are:

  • Make Lismore City Council self-sufficient in electricity via renewable energy.
  • Make Lismore City Council as efficient and productive as the best of the private sector.
  • Relocate to a CBD office building at an acceptable cost to the community to provide economic stimulus to the CBD, the heart of our city. If the CBD flourishes, we all benefit.

For me the first goal demonstrates our need to change as an organisation. We can’t keep using fossil fuels and energy in the same way we always have. We need to look at innovation; at taking some risks; at not being afraid to embrace a new way of thinking.

People told us they want Lismore to be a model of sustainability and we have many projects that are helping us to achieve that. It is one example – among many – of where we have listened to the people and are adapting to meet our community’s expectations.

Staff are currently preparing a 10-year Energy Management Plan with options for achieving this goal. We already have some great examples. We have seen massive reductions in our energy consumption (58%) at our local aquatic centre via the installation of solar panels and heat pump variable speed drives.

We have also signed Australia’s first Memorandum of Understanding as part of the new Farming the Sun project. This could see us build a 100kW solar farm at our local treatment plant, powering the facility 24/7 for the next 10-25 years. If it works, it will be something other councils and large organisations could emulate right across Australia.

The second goal is about being responsible stewards of community assets. We have over $1.2 billion worth of roads, pipes, buildings and facilities that we must ensure are maintained now and for future generations. We are entrusted with public funds and we need to ensure these are used wisely and prudently.

Through the Australian Business Excellence Framework we are in a process of making sure our systems, processes and procedures are the best they can be. We will benchmark ourselves against our peers and the private sector.

The third goal is about showing leadership and confidence in our city. Having our office located in the CBD will create activity and increased retail spend. It will also demonstrate to private sector investors that we believe in our city and so should they. We know that relocating from Goonellabah will come at a cost and we must of course demonstrate that the costs and benefits are acceptable to the community.

And so…

In summary, we live in an ever-changing world and as an organisation we need to change in order to remain relevant to our community. It will not be an easy journey over the next few years; difficult decisions will need to be made about where funds are directed and what services are delivered.

I am confident that with the right will, robust planning and respectful engagement with our community, we will achieve our goals.