Ratepayers are $45,000 better off following Gunnedah Shire Council’s decision to run its own local government election.
All bar five of the 81 NSW councils chose the state’s electoral commission to run their September elections.
Gunnedah shire was one of the few to go it alone and at significant saving to ratepayers.
A report to council last week by returning officer Ian Horwood revealed council spent $56,000 to conduct its own 2016 election, comfortably under its $60,000 budget.
The expenditure was nearly half the quote ($91,037) provided by the NSW Electoral Commission to run the show and almost one-third the cost ($150,000) requested by the Australian Electoral Company.
Former Gunnedah mayor Adam Marshall, who helped deliver our first locally-run election four years ago, also with major saving, was critical of the electoral commission’s “overpriced, bloated and inefficient system”.
Mr Marshall praised council’s “courage” in 2012 to reaffirm its independent stance in the face of pressure to have the commission continue to run the election.
“At the time, there was a lot of pressure...
“We had the feeling we were being ripped off.
“I’m very proud of council, it takes a lot of courage to do something.
“Certainly [the commission] will be sharpening their pencils.”
An electoral commission spokesman highlighted the 2011 Local Government Amendment (elections) Bill which gave councils the option to manage their own elections or contract the NSW Electoral Commission (NSWEC).
“Prior to the bill, councils had to use the NSWEC to manage their elections,” the spokesman said.
“The NSWEC met with councils prior to the 2012 Local Government Elections to discuss the arrangements for the management of their elections. At the meetings, service levels were discussed including the support the NSWEC could provide for councils who chose to manage their own elections.”
Gunnedah council’s spending included about $11,000 on in-house council staff hours to assist the returning officer, which if excluded, equated to an overall election saving of $45,000.
All goods and services for the election were locally sourced, which provided solid reinvestment for local business.
From the stationary used to mark your vote, the ballot paper that recorded it, and the council staff who assisted at polling places – all were local.
Other benefits included extra revenue for community halls used as polling venues and savings through use of existing assets such as the council website and information technology equipment.
Council’s executive manager business systems and governance Colin Formann said the opportunity to keep local government elections truly local, was another big driver to host their own.
The election was also great exposure for council staff should they host another in the future which would determined by available personnel.
Mr Formann said they were fortunate this year to secure the experience of returning officer Ian Horwood and assistant Terry Curran. But delivery of each election would be on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s heavily dependent on getting the local people to run it,” Mr Formann said.
Nearly 90 per cent of 8866 eligible electors turned out to cast their vote. Almost half (4012) were pre-poll votes – a 43 per cent increase on the previous election.