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How the Shire of Coolgardie is keeping services running with minimal rate increases

13 Jul 2022, by Amy Sarcevic

As the cost of living (COL) index scales 6-7 percent, the Shire of Coolgardie – Western Australia’s third largest GDP contributor outside of the Pilbarra region – is exploring novel ways to provide community services against budgetary constraints.

With local government rate increases restricted to a modest 2-3 percent (4 percent below the COL index), Chief Executive James Trail, wasn’t prepared to make service cuts that would affect quality of life for people in the community.

Instead, Mr Trail collaborated with the mining industry to leverage funds towards maintaining services and building infrastructure within the shire.

“It is challenging when you have total rate revenue of, say, 9 million and total costs between 8-9 million. If costs are going up 7 percent and rates are only going up 3 percent how can you possibly maintain the same level of service and continue to provide upgrades on roads, swimming pools, parks and ovals etcetera. You can’t reasonably charge rate payers 10-15 percent – so you have to look at other strategic ways of raising revenue – either that or make service cuts,” he said ahead of the Goldfields Esperance Major Projects Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.

“For us, we didn’t see that as an option. We are a small community so cutting things like local swimming pools or police services has a profound impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people here. We wanted to find a way to keep people in work and maintain a good quality of life, despite all the challenges we are facing. It’s an ESG objective that we are not prepared to budge on.”

By working with the mining sector and getting them to contribute more funds, Mr Trail expects to continue the same level of service delivery over the next five to ten years.

In 2021, the mining sector accounted for more than 70 percent of employment and approximately 83 percent of total salaries within the Region, with an estimated productivity rate of approximately $0.46 million per worker. Self-reporting from mining companies indicated that direct employment was preferred over contracting, with approximately 50 percent of employees residing locally within the Region.

For these reasons, the mining industry was a logical target for the initiative.

Identifying investment priorities

To establish investment priorities associated with the mining sector, the Shire of Coolgardie first developed a socioeconomic assessment tool to measure the impact mining had on the local economy.

“By exploring the socioeconomic data associated with various mining assets, we can identify future strategic priorities for the Shire’s investment and easily demonstrate the value of ESG activities to all stakeholders,” Mr Trail said.

It then explored ways to bring more money back in the community, based on the tool’s output. It worked closely with the sector to expand its air strip, waste facility, and other key revenue-generating activities.

“The idea is to leverage investments in municipal infrastructure such that they improve the competitiveness of Shire as a destination for mining sector investment; which in turn results in better infrastructure, services and socio-economic outcomes for Shire constituents,” Mr. Trail said.

A lasting legacy

So far the tool has helped the Shire of Coolgardie commit to the following infrastructure, facility and service upgrades, worth $37.6 million in total:

  • $21 million in new worker’s accommodation to ease the chronic shortage of supply and facilitate growth.
  • $12.6 million in waste management infrastructure, and a waste innovation hub to enable acceptance of Class III waste, establish recycling, investigate innovative circular economy technologies and diversify revenue streams
    Establishment of a Green Energy Hub with associated downstream processing businesses
  • $2.2 million expansion of Kambalda airstrip to double capacity enables more efficient transportation of workers, and enhances access to community services (e.g. visiting medical professionals).
  • $ 1.8 million establishment of a cultural and community hub to support residents to access local services, activities, support structures and community information.

“By investing in these revenue generating activities, we are keeping children in schools and medical services running – all the while, keeping rates where they are expected,” Mr Trail added.

“Even if all we do is maintain the same community population where most regions are declining, that’s, in my view, a meaningful legacy the mining sector has left behind.”

To hear more about the Shire of Coolgardie’s unique model, register for the Goldfields-Esperance Major Projects Conference, hosted by Informa Connect, where CEO James Trail will join a stellar line up of speakers.

This year’s headliners include The Honourable Bill Johnston MLA, the WA Minister for Mines and Petroleum; Energy; Corrective Services; Industrial Relations; and The Honourable Alannah MacTiernan MLC, THE WA Minister for Regional Development; Agriculture and Food; Hydrogen Industry.

The event will be held 21-22 September at the Hyatt Regency Perth.

Learn more and register.

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