Bellingen Shire Mayor Dominic King.
Bellingen Shire Mayor Dominic King. .

Mayor sees challenges ahead for coastal councils

A TURN in the financial fortunes of Bellingen Shire Council has brought relief to Mayor Dominic King but he warns the measures taken so far have been "the easy ones."

Commitments taken under the Fit For The Future program saw the overall operating result improve from a deficit of $9million in 2014 to a deficit of $900,000 in 2016, a net decrease of $8.1million.

Operating expenses reduced in 2015-16 by 6.4% while income went up by 4.6%.

"Despite this still being a loss, it's part of a long process to balance the books and we've made a strong start," Cr King said.

"However, the improvement was achieved by targetting things that are the easy ones and to take it further there will still be some harder decisions to make."

Mayor King said while his organisation is one of the smallest in the state, the difficulties are the same for all coastal councils including neighbours Coffs Harbour City and Nambucca Shire.

"We are all getting more and more infrastructure to maintain and no real increase in finance to carry this out.

"Then there are the other costs such as a 3% rise in wages at a time our rates were pegged to 1.5%.

"So we have to be creative in where we go looking for savings."

Bellingen has a unique situation of being 57% unrateable forest and national parks.

However, Cr King is looking for a silver lining and sees a long term advantage in this.

"Further development of ecotourism and a National Koala Park is a must, thanks to the incredible natural assets we have stretching from the coast up to Dorrigo.

"But there still remains the need to reign in costs and one of the best changes is the increase in the commitment to solar energy which is a major highlight."

Cost shifting by the State and Federal Governments remains a bugbear.

"Because all councils are facing this, our sharing of resources and cooperation with our neighbours is increasingly important.

"All fees and charges have to be reviewed to recover costs while at the same time not pricing developments out of the market.

"The reductions so far have improved the bottom line remarkably but we remain commited to reduce it by a further $150,000 for 2017 and 2018.

"To do that will be challenging but I'm confident this long process will eventually bring huge benefits to our residents."