Following a successful and financially robust 2012, Orange City Council is investing heavily in infrastructure to ensure a bright future
Located in the state of New South Wales around 206km west from Sydney, the city of Orange may be small in size but it’s big on interesting features. Named after Prince William of Orange, it is one of NSW’s oldest towns and owes most of its growth to the first discovery of Australian gold nearby. The surrounding landscape of parks, orchards and vineyards is as colourful as the city’s name, due to the area’s elevation giving it a temperate climate that produces four distinct seasons of varying colour. For this reason, it is sometimes called ‘Australia’s Colour City’.
The 40,000-inhabitant city, along with neighbouring villages Lucknow and Spring Hill, is governed by Orange City Council, which provides childcare, tourism support, sports fields, parks and gardens, water storage and treatment, waste management and road maintenance.
Two key decision makers on that 400-strong council are general manager Garry Styles and Mayor John Davis. Both of them served long terms on other councils before moving to Orange – where they’ve served for seven and eight years respectively – meaning each of them are well versed in the running of cities.
Styles acknowledges that, “like many other councils around Australia”, the council’s challenge lies in “balancing significant community expectations with limited resources”; but remarks: “I think we’re tackling that balancing act very well as a community and as a council.”
Road to recovery
In recent years, drought forced the council to balance maintaining the health and comfort of its inhabitants against maintaining the condition of the city’s infrastructure. Unfortunately, the council’s decision to put people before pavements left the city looking worse for wear – a problem it is now focusing on solving.
“It’s fair to say that during the drought we let the quality of our streets and road suffer while we dealt with more pressing issues around the shortage of water,” says Davis. “So in September 2012, after the new council was elected, we took a fresh look at the finances and were able to allocate the extra resources to put a concerted new effort into our roads.”
He says he is “particularly proud” of the council’s decision to focus on improving local road conditions over the next few years. “By the end of the 2013/14 financial year, Council will have undertaken more than $14 million in road works across three years,” he reveals.
Styles adds that he’s pleased Council is addressing the public’s perception of the city’s roads. “As well as more spending, we’re looking to keep the community better informed about which roads will be prioritised,” he says. “An assessment has found that of the $1 billion in assets that Orange City Council manages on behalf of the Orange community, about 20 per cent of that is roads.”
While working to repair the damage caused by past droughts, the council is taking steps to minimise the impact of future droughts. It has proposed a project to build a water pipeline from the Macquarie River to Orange, but making it happen might not be easy. “Orange is one of the few inland regional cities not built on a major river, but I’m proud that this council has not been afraid to take on the potential controversy and backlash from some sections of the community to solve this water shortage that’s never been done before,” remarks Davis.
“It’s been a good sign of cooperation and the way our council leaders have been able to argue our case to government that state, federal and local government will share the cost of this major pipeline.”
Another project in the works is the expansion of the Orange airport, which Davis describes as “another story of partnership between the three tiers of government”. A considerable $2.5 million of this $18 million project is coming from mining company Newcrest, who will use the expanded airport to source labour from across the country for its gold mine near Orange – which happens to be the largest in Australia.
In 2012, Orange City Council added to what Davis calls “a good record of major infrastructure projects” with constructions as diverse as a major bypass road and a Men’s Shed. He says he was “delighted” to see the road, built with federal funding, open to traffic this year. “As well as taking thousands of cattle trucks and semi-trailers of the main street, it’s been terrific to see locals starting to use the road as the most convenient way of moving from one side of town to the other,” he comments.
Davis was equally pleased to officially open an extension to the Orange Men’s Shed, which he describes as a place where “men, often but not always retired, get together to work on projects but end up talking together and offering personal support”. This local group recently won an award for a project increasing its member’s emotional resilience, awareness of mental health issues such as depression and encouraging help-seeking behaviour.
Even with the additional expenditure required for all its infrastructure projects, Orange City Council has managed to finish the last financial year “in an extremely sound financial position,” according to Styles.
“Council delivered a robust operating surplus, while expenditure was steady and external debt fell,” he says.
“The cost of servicing debt fell, as did the debt-service ratio. It sounds like a dry statistic but it’s pleasing to have that ratio down to 4.96 per cent, which is below the Group 4 Councils’ average of 7.66 per cent.”
Styles claims 2012 was another good year of securing competitive government funding, topping off four years over which the council sourced more than $60 million from competitive grant funding sources to deliver community projects.
“Projects such as $10 million for the Orange bypass road, $4.45 million for our award-winning stormwater harvesting projects, $1.63 million for a new indoor sports stadium and $3.6 million for a new indoor aquatic centre are just a scattering of how local government can work to identify specific community needs and then design and deliver the results,” he says.
Serving the community
However, Styles recognises that financial figures alone cannot sum up the success of a council’s work. He is keen to reel off more people-centric statistics from 2012, which he says capture “something of the life of the council and the impact it has on the community”. These include the 88,000 people to enter Orange’s Visitors Centre; the 20,000 ‘Meals on Wheels’ delivered to local elderly and disabled people; the 182 stage performances in the Orange Civic Theatre, viewed by more than 46,000 people; and the 68,894 passengers to use Orange Airport, up from the 59,794 total recorded in the previous year.
Styles cites these figures as evidence that Orange City Council has delivered a “high standard of service” to the local community in recent years; spending a total of $6.1 million on the operation of its community services sector alone.
“As well as managing community expectation for roads and rubbish, we’ve been able to achieve a good record of taking on major infrastructure projects and delivering many more community services than local government in Australia is usually able to do,” he says.
“It’s a great achievement that Orange residents receive services such as child care and youth support, as well as aged and disability services, from their local council. Together with neighbouring councils, we’re tackling problems such as road safety through a specialist staff member and education campaigns. Much of this work is funded through state and federal government grants, and that business of submission writing to establish the need for this funding is another aspect of work that Orange Council does well.”
Davis and Styles are evidently proud of the progress Orange City Council made in 2012 and, with so many projects in the pipeline, 2013 is shaping up to be another eventful year for Orange. Here’s hoping it comes through with flying colours.