Gympie Council CEO Bernard Smith and Mayor Mick Curran.
Gympie Council CEO Bernard Smith and Mayor Mick Curran.

Shorter leash on council spend

GYMPIE Regional Councillors have rejected as excessive a plan to allow CEO Bernard Smith to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on contract variations without specific council approval.

But councillors unanimously agreed staff needed to be able to operate with some flexibility, in the event of unforseen problems, which otherwise could cost the council much more.

The plan was complicated by a concern that the council would soon be in pre-election caretaker mode and would not be legally allowed to make significant spending decisions without approval from the Local Government Minister.

A staff report said some flexibility was needed to address common enough cost overruns caused by unpredictable factors like weather or rock conditions.

This followed a suggestion by Cr Dan Stewart that 10 per cent would be more moderate, but would still have allowed adequate flexibility.

A staff report to the council said the alternative would be to keep things as they are, leaving staff unable to approve any variations in contracts valued at more than $550,000.

Cr Bob Fredman said his experience (as a senior council staff member) led to a concern that it would be unfair to make a 20 per cent or nothing decision which would be binding on the next council.

Cr Stewart backed Cr Fredman’s proposal for a five per cent allowance for variations, a figure he described as conservative but sufficient “to keep the wheels turning.”

“When we started, staff asked for 20 per cent.

“I found that totally unacceptable as we stand at the moment. But I am also cognisant of the fact we have to keep business rolling,” Cr Fredman said.

“It’s a very expensive business to stop a contract and start again, because all our contracts allow for payments to contractors if we delay them finishing the job.”

Mayor Mick Curran, who joined the unanimous council support for Cr Fredman’s motion, said it was important to understand the role of delegations which allowed “work crews to go to the service station and buy fuel or a hardware shop to buy items”.