Almost four years after the NSW Government declared all councils needed to be “fit for the future”, Shellharbour council has finally received its official financial tick of approval.
This means the council is deemed financially sustainable and exceeds all seven benchmarks set out by the government.
The news came through late last week, prompting general manager Carey McIntyre to reflect on the long road and “difficult decisions” made over the past few years to get the city’s finances in shape.
For instance, he said the council had increased its commercial returns from Shell Cove, the airport and the Links golf course, put in place more robust purchasing policies and reformed the council’s internal work culture and values.
“This is not just a flash in the pan, it’s not just a one, two or three year aberration, it’s a long term financial plan to make sure the community’s needs are being met into the future,” Mr McIntyre said.
In 2015, when the government revealed its plan to force Wollongong and Shellharbour councils to merge, one justification was that the southern council did not meet all the “fit for the future” benchmarks.
This was because the council had been unable to demonstrate that it was earning more money from ratepayers than it was spending, Mr McIntyre said, or that it had enough money to cover the replacement costs of ageing infrastructure assets.
However, as it fought amalgamation, the council found it was able to demonstrate financial fitness.
Once new councillors were elected after the merger was dropped, the council was invited to reapply for the financial fitness assessment, and finally received the stamp of approval last Friday.
As well as being a source of pride for the council, the decision means it can access low-rate loans from the NSW Treasury Corporation.
Mr McIntyre said this could help the council to provide more new facilities and upgrade existing infrastructure with the competitive loans.