Policy ‘could be tweaked’

LATROBE City mayor Sandy Kam says council’s controversial new procurement policy could be “tweaked at any time”.

A last-ditch bid to scrap the new policy failed on Monday night, with plans now set in motion to roll it out across council operations.

The procurement policy, developed by councillors Dale Harriman and Michael Rossiter, shifts decision-making power away from council officers and executives to councillors themselves.

It will limit the amount of expenditure managers are allowed to authorise without councillors first voting on the matter, including the majority of building variations for public infrastructure projects like roads, drains and bridges.

Adoption of the policy has drawn fierce criticism from the civil contracting sector and community groups, but a bid by Cr Darrell White on Monday night to repeal the decision failed to gain majority support.

Mayor Sandy Kam, who was absent when the policy was adopted last month, could have tipped the vote in Cr White’s favour, but chose to vote to uphold the policy.

“Some people have concerns about the thresholds in the policy and I think in time it will prove those concerns are unfounded,” Cr Kam said.

“My thoughts on it were we have a huge budget, we purchase an enormous amount of stuff and most people don’t know where we’ve spent the money.”

However, Cr Kam said if major issues arose, council could vote to “tweak” the policy at any time.

A council officer’s report projected under the new policy, there would be a major jump in the number of reports put to council for voting, which would have to be squeezed into the fortnightly 22 council meetings a year.

This would significantly lengthen council meetings, which The Express estimates currently last about two hours on average.

Cr Kam conceded council may have to examine how often it meets.

“If we have to have more meetings, I think that should be an option at the end of the day,” Cr Kam said.

On Monday night, Cr Rossiter said he intensely opposed scrapping the policy because he believed it addressed what he called “dubious governance”.

Cr Harriman said, while councillors weren’t permitted to speak about the details of contracts publicly, he cited a council project he was aware of prior to becoming a councillor which had 40 variations costing $150,000.

“This is about value for money for ratepayers,” he said.

Eight members of the public spoke against the new policy at Monday night’s meeting raising concerns about project delays and cost.

None spoke in favour of it.

A council officer’s report had previously warned implementation of the procurement policy would cost ratepayers $2.49 million over 10 years and result in “significant and unreasonable disruptions and delays”, damaging council’s reputation in the community and impacting on its ability to attract state and federal funding.

Cr Graeme Middlemiss told the meeting he estimated implementing the policy would translate to a half to one per cent increase in rates.

Cr Harriman has said the new policy would generate enough cost savings to pay for itself.