Financial recovery process begins

Central Coast Council Acting CEO, Rik Hart

In an exclusive interview with Central Coast Newspapers, Central Coast Council Acting CEO, Rik Hart, elaborated on the current state of Council’s financial recovery measures, moves to cut staff numbers and how things are shaping up for the region’s future.

While he acknowledged the proposed rate increase of 10-15 per cent would be a “major impost” on many families, Hart said it was a necessary move in combating the Council deficit.

“This has been a very challenging time,” Hart, who was appointed to his acting position by Administrator Dick Persson on October 30 last year, said.

“It’s been a very difficult time for staff, but I have to say that working with both staff and the unions has been a pleasure.

“You might have expected we would run into a lot of resistance, but the unions have been onside and working with us to solve one of our biggest problems, which is that we have too many staff.”

Hart said Council had called on staff to consider voluntary redundancies over the Christmas period and a number had taken up that offer.

While Persson is the “public face” of the Council’s interim management team, Hart said he was “working from within” to address Council’s problems and will continue in the role until a new CEO is appointed, which he expects to be some time after Easter.

Originally appointed for three months, Persson has applied for a three-month extension of his tenure, which would see him in the Administrator role until the end of April, and Hart said he expected the State Government to be sympathetic to his request, which would see both men continuing with their roles until Council finances are more on track and the new CEO is appointed.

“That process is going well,” he said.

“Some good people have already applied for the role and the recruitment process is well underway.

“The administrator has put together a panel to consider applications.

“I am on that panel, but the ultimate decision will rest with Mr Persson.”

Hart said planned asset sales should see the Council realise “tens of millions of dollars”.

“We will take advice from a panel of experts to assure we get a good price for any assets sold and will take their advice on likely markets,” he said.

Hart said the sales were necessary under conditions of recent loans taken with private lenders.

“We have had some difficulty in securing loans,” he said.

“Council will receive no financial support from the Treasury or TCorp because they are not a lender, so we had to find our own way through.

“Part of our agreement with the (private) lenders requires asset sales to clear the restricted funds debt.”

Although it is on Central Coast Council’s list of deferred projects, Hart is confident that a regional library will still be delivered in the Gosford town centre.

“I know the Administrator is keen to deliver it and because there is funding from State and Federal governments involved as well as local funds, I have some confidence we will be able to do it,” Hart said.

Hart said he had not met with any of the suspended councillors but felt they had to “carry the can”.

He said he would support financial training for any future councillors and a reduction in councillor numbers.

“Someone can promise the world but unless they understand how to finance and operate it, the costs come back to bite you,” he said.

“Most councillors in my experience don’t understand finances.”

Hart said 15 councillors was “too many” and he would strongly support a reduction in councillor numbers.

Hart said Council’s next budget would be “austere”.

“We need to have a budget which matches lender’s expectations so there will be no frills,” he said.

“Council can build up again in the future but for now we need to get back to the core (areas) of roads, rates and rubbish.

“We have to address the fact this Council spent a lot more than it was earning.

“We have needed to borrow money under tight conditions so we must do what needs to be done to see the budget returning a small surplus in 12 months’ time.

“It’s a big ask, but we can do it.”

To see the full interview,
go to our website:

Video interview, January 19
Central Coast Council, Acting CEO, Rik Hart