Like many local government areas in NSW and across the country, Eurobodalla Shire Council faces the challenge of having significant infrastructure to manage, maintain and renew as well as having an enormous breadth of services to deliver. Coupled with finite income sources; a geographically, socially and economically diverse community; and a level of existing community concerns around issues including the Rural Lands Strategy among others, and Council has the unenviable task of trying to balance limited means with endless needs in an environment of narrowed trust. Council decided to work with newDemocracy to tackle the complex task of engaging with their whole community to make difficult decisions about services and expenditure. What would a group of randomly selected citizens recommend?
Eurobodalla Shire Council (ESC) was at a critical juncture in its long term planning. Having sought and received approval for a special rate variation in 2015 to ensure ongoing financial sustainability, and with a new Council elected in September 2016, it is timely for the organisation to take stock and consider whether it is meeting the needs and expectations of its community. In short, to ask the question is Council allocating its resources to the right things?
This was also timely as immediately following the election, ESC was required to embark on the next round of obligations of the Integrated Planning and Reporting Framework (IPR) under which all NSW councils operate. This specifically requires preparation of “a Delivery Program, detailing the principal activities it will undertake to achieve the objectives established in the Community Strategic Plan, within the resources available under the Resourcing Strategy”.
Council is required to have the new Delivery Plan prepared and adopted by Council by 30 June 2017.
It is an explicit requirement of the IPR Framework that Council must consider the priorities and expected levels of service expressed by the community when preparing its Delivery Program. With this in mind, there was a clear logic to build in a substantive role for the community and to ask them the question of whether Council is spending their money on the right things.
Importantly, in this project, nDF deliberately designed a process to mirror an identical project with the City of Greater Bendigo. As a research based organisation, we were keen to understand how two regional localities would respond to similar subject matter and designs.
nDF convened a jury of 27 people, who meet over six sessions (with an additional two sessions they elected to hold). Their report was presented to Council in December 2016, with Council resolving to respond to the recommendations in March 2017.