Council jobs gone

LATROBE City Council will go into the next financial year with six fewer staff members under a series of cost-cutting and efficiency measures initiated by its interim head.

Acting chief executive John Mitchell said since his appointment six months ago, staff vacancies had not automatically been filled, resulting in the loss of “half a dozen or so” full-time equivalent jobs through attrition.

“We look to see if we can improve the work processing to obviate the reappointment of a person,” Mr Mitchell said.

He said it was a practice that would continue.

“As soon as the budget is adopted, the management will continue benchmarking our costs.”

Council employs more than one thousand people across the Latrobe Valley.

In April, Mr Mitchell initiated a restructure to reduce the organisation’s five overarching departments to four.

It came as the council’s only two remaining, non-acting general managers departed, following an exodus of all their senior leadership colleagues in the six months prior, including chief executive Paul Buckley.

One of the original five general manager positions is counted among those vacancies which have not been filled.

The Express has contacted the Australian Service Union for comment on the reduction of jobs, but has received no response.

Applications have now closed for council’s four general manager positions and executive manager role.

Mr Mitchell said it was expected a permanent chief executive would be in place by the end of the year.

He said council had to look to the future and recover costs in order to have a “financially sustainable operation”.

Draft budget papers suggest council’s total borrowings will be $19.6 million by 30 June 2015.

It is not the only Gippsland council moving to cut costs.

Wellington Shire has also had a reduction in six full-time equivalent staff through attrition, while Baw Baw Shire plans to save $1 million in operating costs in its budget, through the consolidation of some roles and no new positions on offer.

Part of the cost-cutting regime expected at Latrobe, if council’s draft budget is adopted on 30 June, is the sale of council land considered surplus to the community’s needs.

Mr Mitchell said council had budgeted to sell off $2 million worth of its land over the next two financial years.

Among the properties would be the former Traralgon Early Learning Centre site on Franklin Street, which has sat dormant for the past five years since its services were relocated to an existing facility in Mapleson Drive, bought by council from a private owner.

Council needs the sale of the Franklin Street site to pay for a remaining $2.1 million deficit on the purchase.

The impending sale has had a contentious history, with council’s original intention to sell the land by private treaty to Minster Constructions, which planned a major development encompassing the adjacent vacant lot on the corner of Grey and Franklin streets.

This sparked community and council debate about whether the property should instead be sold to the highest bidder at auction.

Ultimately, Minster Constructions reneged on its plans to include the former childcare centre site.

Mr Mitchell is now preparing a report for council, which will explore the fastest way to sell the property.

Other land earmarked for sale is small, disused vacant areas of older residential estates across the Valley originally intended for recreation.

“These blocks of land are essentially green paddocks that we’ve got to mow and maintain, “Mr Mitchell said.

He said the community would have the opportunity to have its say on the proposed sales.

Mr Mitchell spruiked council’s plans not to pass its financial burden on to ratepayers, with a total rate increase proposed as 3.9 per cent for the next financial year.

The previous rise was 5.2 per cent.

“This rate rise is the lowest of something like nine years,” Mr Mitchell said.