19 October 2023

Kiama Mayor says council has a bright future, overcoming 'financial doldrums'

| Neil Reilly
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Kiama Council is looking at a town plan that retains the town’s character and heritage. Photo: iStock/Steven Tritton.

Kiama Municipal Council has been in the financial doldrums, but after nearly three years, we can reset our sails and set course for a better financial future.

Now is the time (to extend the nautical metaphor!) to look at the charts and reimagine our council’s future.

Having made money out of divestment, now is the time to make more than just money out of reinvestment. Our investment will be in the community: in infrastructure, revenue streams, and a way to champion new, innovative, breakthrough ideas while attentively managing risks.

We are undertaking service reviews for many aspects of council.

Councillors are elected to make a difference in their community and during these difficult times that should include an influencing voice on what services are preserved and what changes may be necessary.

It is no secret that rates alone cannot support any council in NSW, so we must do other things.

We have learned from the past not to overstep the mark; we must modestly consider our intentions and understand that it’s not the thing that we want, but rather the outcome the thing will give the community.

We must collaborate inside and outside the organisation to maximise our shared dreams.

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We need to reach out to the business community to help us support new and existing business enterprises run by council.

The CEO knows that I would like to have a new directorate in council, set up to purely look at the commercial enterprises.

In certain contexts, a council-owned business might be involved in research and development activities, potentially spurring innovation that can be beneficial to the broader business community.

Having a council-owned entity can foster collaboration between the public and private sectors.

This collaboration can lead to shared initiatives that benefit the entire LGA. Public ownership often comes with higher levels of scrutiny and accountability, which can build trust among local businesses and the community.

These ideas need to be explored as we grow. Part of the problems we have encountered stem from not separating council’s commercial and community obligations.

To help us in exploring these pursuits we have great people in new committees to bring greater value to our area. We have new directors with a new and clearer vision.

Moving back into the council for the community realm, along with the financial repair, we need to look after our roads and infrastructure to be tough and resilient, we are already working hard on this.

We’re also working on technological and digital transformation, which will help us retain and train our workforce and how we engage with our community.

With our experience and the received wisdom of others, we should prepare now for severe weather events.

We know how things can change so quickly and how responses are enacted, what went right, but also what went wrong.

Some councils have Memoranda of Understanding dedicated to affordable housing; this is not a bad idea and can be achieved if we focus not on a quick buck but on generational outcomes.

We are looking at a town centre plan which features necessary growth balanced with strong measures to retain our character and heritage.

Our environmental wellbeing should always be at the forefront of our ideas for the future.

So we need to be putting forward energy-efficiency initiatives for the council as the biggest business in town – this is not a wish, it’s an obligation.

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At one time we may have been facing disaster, now we’re looking towards a bright and achievable future.

It’s taken hard work, hard decisions and a good, long hard look at ourselves.

In conclusion, as we stand at this pivotal juncture, I ask each of you to consider this a story of resilience and transformation.

This journey hasn’t been about just steering clear of tempests, but about harnessing the winds of change to propel us forward.

The future beckons with promises of innovation, collaboration, and community-centric growth.

Let’s not merely gaze upon this horizon with hope; let’s sail towards it with conviction.

Remember, the power to shape our tomorrow lies in all our hands today.

Together, we will navigate to prosperous shores, ensuring that Kiama remains vibrant, sustainable, and forward-looking.

I dream of transforming Kiama Council from an underperforming but adequate LGA to the most respected, exhilarating, and proud place in the world.

Kiama Mayor Neil Reilly delivered this speech to the Kiama and District Business Chamber on 6 October.

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